I’m a sucker for Christmas. It’s my absolute favorite time of year for so many reasons. The warmth. The family. The meaning. The festivities. The lights. The music. The presents. It’s all one big stew of good feelings. Yes, I really am one of those people who start celebrating Christmas well before Halloween. In fact, I’d put all my decorations up in August if it weren’t socially unacceptable to do so.
But as a proud indoor kid of the 80’s and 90’s, it’s really the TV specials and movies of Christmas that get me into the spirit of the season. It’s even more meaningful for me now as a parent, since I get to share the experience of watching shows like A Charlie Brown Christmas with my kids. But there’s a number of forgotten Christmas TV specials that are worth digging around for. These are the hidden gems they don’t air on TV anymore. They played such an important role in my childhood that I want to make sure I can still share them with my kids. After all, everyone knows the California Raisins are way cooler than the Bubble Guppies, am I right? These are a few of my favorite lost Christmas specials that I fit into every holiday season.
A Muppet Family Christmas
No franchise says Christmas to me quite like The Muppets. After all, they’ve been a part of so many memorable Christmas-themed productions over the years. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a holiday movie that really doesn’t get the classic due it deserves, and the John Denver album A Christmas Together is an underrated, underplayed gem at Christmastime.
So it’s criminal that their best Christmas production – A Muppet Family Christmas – doesn’t see the light of day on TV anymore as far as I can tell. Even if it would, it wouldn’t be the originally-aired version I remember from my youth. It’s understandable in a way. The core Muppets, the Sesame Street Muppets and the Fraggle Rock Muppets mashing up in the same special was a rare and unsustainable brew of awesome that unfortunately has largely been forgotten now that three different corporate parents control those characters.
Even when it made its way to reruns or VHS tape, it was butchered because of music rights. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find a copy of an original airing online, and it’s worth seeking out. It’s one of the last Muppet productions Jim Henson participated in before his death, and his cameo at the end looking out over all his creations from the kitchen still gets me every time.
Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration
Most people know this special – if they remember it at all – as the California Raisins Christmas special. But that’s hardly what this is, seeing as the Raisins’ rendition of “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” is just one of several vignettes in this variety special by visionary stop-motion animator Will Vinton. Yes, this did come out during the height of the California Raisins craze – yes, there was one – but this special as a whole has so many memorable moments.
Framed by dinosaur narrators fashioned after Siskel and Ebert, several musical numbers are presented demonstrating Christmas celebrations around the world. Some are humorous, some are heartfelt, and some are just plain magical. It may look crude by today’s standards due to its clay animation, but for 1987, it really was quite something.
It’s been out on VHS and on DVD way back in 2003 and as of this writing, that edition is still available on Amazon. Even though I haven’t been able to get my five-year-old to buy into A Muppets Family Christmas, this special has been one of her favorites because of the bell choir sequence. If you don’t know what that is, seek this out and find out for yourself.
The Star Wars Holiday Special
This… this. What can I say about this? A Christmas special that crosses Star Wars with a 7o’s variety special. Not only that, you get the whole principal cast of Star Wars plus Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Jefferson Starship. I guess Charles Nelson Reilly was booked up with Match Game at the time and couldn’t swing a cameo.
To be totally honest, I’ve tried for the last few Christmases to get through this whole thing, and I still haven’t been successful. Maybe this will be the year me and my family celebrate Life Day, but it’s just… so… bad. Maybe I hold the movies in such high regard (the original trilogy, anyways) that I can’t bring myself to sully those memories with this blatant commercial cash-in.
There’s no way in hell you’re going to find this on any official commercially-available home video release, but you can find it online if you look for it.
A Garfield Christmas Special
This special is – forgive the pun – a bit of a stray on my list. I’ve had much more vague memories of A Garfield Christmas Special than other ones on this list. In fact, I found myself mashing up this special and Garfield On The Town, which was another Garfield special that played regularly through my youth. I have memories of it because it often ran in tandem with A Charlie Brown Christmas. I even remember it playing once when I was in college, though it hasn’t aired on TV since 2000. It was only recently that I borrowed this on DVD from the library to jog my memory.
It was only recently that I borrowed this on DVD from the library to jog my memory, and I became conflicted with whether I should really pass it down to my kids just yet. For one thing, they don’t have Garfield as a point of reference like they do The Muppets or Star Wars. The opening number is also a Lou Rawls tune titled “Gimme Gimme Gimme Gimme,” which probably wouldn’t fly well in my household.
Yet under the sly, sarcastic surface of a Garfield TV special, there’s a real warmth and sweetness to this story that I remember latching onto as a kid. It may just be a little too soon to fold it into the family rotation with a five- and one-year-old in the house. That won’t stop me from watching it on my own though.
Also published on Medium.