In my experience, more than a few parents out there—fathers, in particular—are a bit clueless when it comes to holiday specials. Some of the following are still ratings drivers for networks, and some you might have to seek out online. But trust me, all are worth a watch.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
To this day, Charles Schulz’s insistence that the special be loaded with jazz and include blanket-toting Linus citing scripture continues to impress. The guy had clout! But, it worked. Furthermore, it works. Of course, the special is best remembered for the lousy tree Chuck picks out and the way some TLC turns it into a gem anyway. Oh, and the dancing. Definitely the dancing.
Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas
No Jim Carrey/Ron Howard CGI-laden fare here. I’m talking the 22-minute classic cartoon with Boris Karloff (yes, the silver screen’s own Frankenstein) narrating. The theme song will stay with your kid forever, as will the lesson that Who-ville still partied come Christmas day, despite their gifts having been stolen.
The Year Without a Santa Claus
This one might take some sleuthing. Churned out by the same duo (Rankin and Bass) that gave us Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and so many other holiday classics, this one finds Santa (voiced by Mickey Rooney) not feeling it and looking to call the holiday off. Mrs. Claus steps in to save the day—a notion that will surely resonate in 2017 America—though it’s the Heat Miser and his frozen sibling squaring off in song that makes it a must-see.
It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!
Now the star of a hit Broadway musical, SpongeBob is simply a character you must accept as a dad. It should be pretty darn easy—there’s way worse out there, and he and his gang (especially Plankton) are a riot. This special from 2012 gives a nod to those Rankin and Bass classics with stop-motion animation, which is sweet, and the song “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas)” deserves to be covered by Sam Smith or Dave Grohl.
Robbie the Reindeer
A blast for father and child, Robbie is the slovenly son of Rudolph with a nose capable of much trickery, including a GPS of sorts. But it’s behind the scenes where Robbie shines: Voice artists include Ricky Gervais, Keira Knightley, Russell Brand, Ozzy Osbourne and more. There are three installments of the BBC hit, the most recent harkening back to 2007. But that doesn’t mean another isn’t lying in wait—perhaps with Daniel Craig lending his voice.
He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special
With She-Ra having landed her own brand-new spin-off series on Netflix, the time is right to dig up this doozy from 1985. Here our warrior (once played indelibly on screen by Dolph Lundgren) joins forces with his gal pal to prevent Skeletor (who else?) from ruining Christmas for all the children on Eternia. Truly the only thing missing is a cameo by Thundarr the Barbarian.
Olive, The Other Reindeer
A clever riff on the “all of the other reindeer” line from the Rudolph song, Olive’s creator would have you believe the lyric is “Olive, the other reindeer.” Well, technically, Olive is the one who believes that; a kooky terrier (voiced by Drew Barrymore) mishears the lyric, thinks it is she to whom they are referring, and with Blitzen injured, heads North to save the day. What else can hilarious hijinks do but ensue? Oh, and there’s a penguin named—I kid you not—Martini.
A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!
While Hanukkah continues to get short shrift in the holiday special department (Adam Sandler’s legendary ditty about it being the sole standout), Stephen Colbert did win a Grammy for this Comedy Central special that’s worth seeking out. Stuck in a cabin when he should instead be in a studio with rocker Elvis Costello, Colbert is bombarded with friends armed with song. His buddy Jon Stewart encourages him to consider the “sensible alternative to Christmas, Hanukkah.” Great music abounds.
Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas
This sucker absolutely reeks of 1977, the year Jim Henson’s Muppets took the nation by storm. Here the late Henson is armed with songs by Paul Williams, riffs on O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” full sets, tracking cameras and the coolest misfit Muppets ever. The Jug Band jams!
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
You didn’t honestly think I’d leave ol’ Rudy off the list, did ya? The special took the hit single and ran with it. Here there’s an enormous snow creature terrorizing the North Pole, an explorer named Yukon seeking gold, an elf that would prefer to be a dentist and a whole dang “Island of Misfit Toys.” The “Charlie in the Box” alone is something you and your child need experience together. Truth.