It feels like the time-honored tradition of every TV show and cartoon airing a special Christmas/holiday episode is dying off. Yet another reason to long for the “good ol’ days” (whichever decade your ol’ days happen to be), and feel a twinge of nostalgia for all the hours spent watching the boob tube during the winter months, waiting for presents. Is it really Christmas if [insert random Scroogy TV character here] doesn’t learn a lesson about the true meaning of the holiday? Luckily, DVD distributors and streaming sites like to profit off our collective longing, so there are plenty of cool specials to watch with your kids (or make your kids watch). This way you won’t have to deal with all the toy commercials, and subsequent whining about what the brood want for Christmas (like your parents did).
Dr. Who: A Christmas Carol & Dr. Who: The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe
As if you needed further proof that EVERYONE does a version of the canonical Dickens holiday story, we present Dr. Who: A Christmas Carol. Actually, this makes more sense than most adaptations, because the whole series is about traveling through time and space; it’s not a stretch to think of the Time Lord using his abilities to make a Scrooge see the light (and help save Amy and Rory from a crashing space liner). The other eleventh Doctor Christmas special, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, is based on the C.S. Lewis novel. The Doctor tries to repay the kindness a woman and her children showed him when he was in trouble in 1938; he wants to make their Christmas special, and gifts them passageway through his “wardrobe” into a wintery forest world. This one gets bonus points for the Bill Bailey cameo.
Bump in the Night –Twas the Night Before Bumpy
Bump in the Night was a short-lived, but nonetheless awesome, claymation show centering on a sock-eating monster who lives under the bed, Bumpy, and his fellow monster friends (one is a bathroom monster, Squishington, the other a rag doll named Molly). The Christmas episode was actually the last of the series; it features Bumpy trying to steal Santa’s presents, and Molly running the monster Christmas pageant. After Squishington ruins the traps Bumpy sets for Santa, they head off to the North Pole to get the loot from the source, where, naturally, Bumpy learns a lesson about greed. I love the crazy character designs (especially the closet monster), and watching a clay character go splat is surprisingly more satisfying than the standard animation falls.
He Man and She-Ra Christmas Special
If, in addition to monsters, you would rather have your Christmas with little robot people and ass-kicking, than this is the special for you. Friends and family from Eternia and Etheria get together for the twins’ birthday, but they end up having to rescue Orko who accidently shoots himself to Earth and unwittingly kidnaps a couple of kids (and their Christmas tree). In the midst of being thrown into an epic struggle on an alien planet, the two children decide to teach everyone about Christmas. Along the way, they manage to infect Skeletor with good feelings and kindness. You really can’t beat that.
Rugrats Holiday Collection
Rugrats had some of the best holiday specials on TV. They had the right combination of elements that should be in all holiday-themed episodes for kids: addresses children’s questions and/or fears surrounding the holiday, plot that actually revolves around the event’s traditions, and a nice blend of humor and heart. Not to mention the fact that I think they were the only non-PBS show to have a Kwanza special, and their Chanukah cartoon is by far the best from the slim pickens of TV and films revolving around the Jewish faith (the Passover one is great as well). The two Christmas episodes are: “The Santa Experience” where the kids learn about Santa, and in “Babies in Toyland” the gang teaches Dil about Christmas while the families visit Christmas Land.
The Trolls and the Christmas Express
This one’s a little short, but I decided to include it anyway. How often to you come across a holiday story about “horribly ugly, roguish and rascally, tricky and troublesome” trolls? The six creatures go to Santa’s Village in the North Pole to destroy Christmas… merely because they’re trolls. They dress as elves and attempt to sabotage the toys, but the real elves’ good magic is too powerful. The trolls resort to singing about how bad they are to prevent the reindeer from sleeping, so they will be too tired to pull Santa’s sleigh. I love the old-school animation, and this one is suitable for any age (the troll’s “bad” behavior is more mischievous than evil).
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special
If you aren’t already excited at the prospect of watching a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas special, I’m really not sure what else I could say to convince you to enjoy this with your kids. It is by far one of the craziest holiday specials I’ve ever seen, combining the traditional variety show format (inviting random guest actors and musicians to talk and sing about Christmas) with the standard Playhouse awesomeness. Everything is as loveable, absurd, kitschy, and self-aware as always. Pee-Wee has maintained so many devoted fans for so long, it’s easy to forget why the show worked incredibly well and was popular in the first place: children can relate to him. The childlike behavior isn’t merely for laughs; it helps bring kids into Pee-Wee’s world so maybe they can learn from his mistakes (in this case, selfishness).
Tell us your favorite Christmas specials below.