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Readers, Time for Your Holiday Writing Assignment: Identify Your Favorite Holiday Specials and Movies, And Why
December 15, 2010  | By David Bianculli  | 4 comments

[UPDATE: I'm keeping this up for a few more days because a) it makes my holiday week easier, and b) you guys have been writing such GREAT entries. Keep 'em coming -- please! and Happiest of Holidays to all. -- DB]


Maybe it's because I've just graded my final college papers of the year. Maybe it's because Diane Werts has been listing such great holiday offerings on TV and DVD. Probably, it's a little of both. Regardless, here's what I'd like to know: Are there any holiday TV traditions you still keep? Any all-time favorites? Any memories you'd like to share of watching holiday TV specials or movies as a kid?...

There's no deadline, and no grading. I'm just intensely curious, in these days of DVDs and fractured media universes, what TV still means to people over the holidays, and what memories it evokes. Anyone still seek out the Yule Log? Make a point of watching Charlie Brown, the Grinch, or Ebenezer Scrooge?

And what are your most vivid memories of Ghosts of Christmases Past?

Please share. Consider it your gift to those of us at, and reading, TV WORTH WATCHING.




Raked said:

Muppet Christmas Carol. My family and I watch it every year, often while making cookies or trimming the tree.

Comment posted on December 15, 2010 10:10 AM

cantinflas said:

I love "It's A Wonderful Life", my wife loves "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation", and we always watch "A Christmas Story" together, with our small children.

Comment posted on December 15, 2010 10:15 AM

Eileen said:

As corny as this sounds, the one and only "It's a Wonderful Life" is still on my must watch every Christmas. I just saw it last Saturday, and the line that still brings tears to my eyes is when Harry Bailey says, "To George, the richest man in town." And Clarence's inscription in the bible, "No man is a failure who has friends." No robots, no computer graphics, no crazy stunts, just regular people in a small town who care about each other.

I still consider this the ultimate holiday movie. It's just perfect. But as a professor of film, you must be aware that this movie was considered a "bomb" when it was first released. Frank Capra was one of those geniuses who was so under appreciated during his lifetime. Capricorn, I believe his work was referred to.

The cast alone is amazing: Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore, Ward Bond, et al.

And Laurel & Hardy's "March of the Wooden Soldiers" is right up there at the top of the list. I watch it religiously each year as a homage to my late dad, who was a disciple of L&H.

Comment posted on December 15, 2010 10:28 AM

Marlark said:

There are two Christmas TV joys and traditions I especially enjoy watching each year:

George C. Scott in "A Christmas Carol" (1984): what a revelation it was the first time I saw it; and I experience the same feeling each time it's on (whenever it's on -- quite often I have no idea when and where to find this TV worth watching). His portrayal -- as well as the rest of the great cast -- makes it seem as if the story jumped from the page to the screen with every nuance and moment brought along.

The Odd Couple Christmas Episode: (you can watch it here in three YouTube videos). Watching Oscar, the "perfect Scrooge" transform from Ebeneezer Madison into a Christmas believer carries an even greater joy than Mr. Scott's portrayal -- watching a character who had embodied Scroogieness each and every episode preceding this one -- a character we knew so well -- had never been more ripe for such transformation. Even if it was only for the holidays.

O tidings of comfort and joy!

Comment posted on December 15, 2010 11:13 AM

Jay said:

This one is easy.

As someone born in the 80's, the single greatest Christmas special of all time is Pee-Wee's Play House Christmas Special. I watched it 1000 times as a kid and sort of forgot about it as I got older. But then I somehow randomly came across the DVD on Amazon a couple of years ago and started watching it again before Christmas every year like I originally did almost 20 years earlier.

Runner ups would be the first Home Alone movie and, while it's semi-embarrassing to admit it, there's an Christmas episode of Full House where they all get stuck in an airport that for some reason sticks in my mind and I try to catch every year.

Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story would make my top 10 too, as would any of the sketches found on a SNL Christmas special.

But really, it's all about Pee-Wee. That's as good as it gets,

Comment posted on December 15, 2010 12:18 PM

Virg said:

We started a family tradition shortly after Turner started showing round-the-clock A Christmas Story years ago. We pretty much knew the film by heart, so occasionally during the busy Christmas day, we'd call for guesses, and each person would try to guess where the movie was at that point. We'd turn on the set and more often than not, someone was right. No prizes, no points. We just shared some random fun.

Comment posted on December 15, 2010 12:58 PM

SharonGS said:

We often spend Christmas in Italy, and it seems as if Italian TV always runs the June Allyson version of "Little Women" as a Christmas movie. It's an odd choice, but I miss seeing it when we spend Christmas elsewhere. (I know I could buy it, but it isn't the same in English.)

Comment posted on December 15, 2010 2:04 PM

R. Orr said:

The last few Christmas's haven't been complete without the Doctor Who Christmas special.

Looking forward to seeing Doctor Who this Christmas as "The Ghost of Christmas Past"!

My family had a strange tradition of watching Denis Leary's "The Ref" every Christmas we were able to get together. We had it on VHS...but I haven't seen it listed on television for a while now. But that was our Christmas movie of choice for a number of years.

I always catch some of the classic animated shows like Frosty, Rudolph, Charlie Brown, the gringe.

And Dave...have a merry Christmas. I've extremely enjoyed tvworthwatching for a couple years now. It's the first website I go to in the morning after checking my email. Thank you! I look forward to reading everyday.

[Thanks for the thanks! Merry Christmas right back... -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 15, 2010 4:54 PM

Jill said:

My husband absolutely must watch "Miracle on 34th Street" every Christmas season, usually sometime around Thanksgiving. This year my mom was here and he watched it with her.

One of my most enduring memories, altho I wouldn't call it one of my favorites, is of my sister crying every year when Frosty melted. That darn snowman really got to her! :-) ...and, no, as I'm sure you realize, it wasn't Diane. :-)

Comment posted on December 15, 2010 7:15 PM

Kate G said:

Asking to write about Christmas specials brought back memories of 2nd grade in 1968 when we were required to watch all the televised Christmas specials and write 5 sentences about each of them. I think they included Rudolph, Frosty and The Little Drummer Boy.

My sons watch them all on VCR/DVD at least once in the summer and once at Christmas.

I watch Christmas Vacation every year decorating the tree; I think it is on of the funniest movies ever made. on Chrisrmas Eve I watch parts of A Christmas Story (last year I finally watched the whole thing in order) and on Christmas morning, the Yule Log now in HD stays on TV until it is over.

Thanks, Dave and Merry Christmas!!

[You, too. And if you ever find that second-grade assignment, I'll reprint it here! -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 16, 2010 7:32 AM

Sam Tomaino said:

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is more than "just" a Christmas movie. It's my favorite movie of all time.

For contemporary fantasies with a Christmas setting, my next favorite is THE BISHOP'S WIFE.

Best version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL? The 1951 version with Alastair Sim.

Best "new' movie? A CHRISTMAS STORY.

Best television special? A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, followed by MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Comment posted on December 16, 2010 1:03 PM

Hoppy said:

Many year ago there was a TV movie called The Gathering starring Ed Asner as a man who knew he was about to die and wanted to have one more Christmas celebration with his whole family. It really touched me and made me decide to drive from New Jersey to Florida to see my mom and dad. My brother also lived in Florida at the time and I asked him to have a Christmas Eve party. I called my sister and she came in from New York and we had the whole family together for Christmas.

As it turns out, although he knew, my dad told no one he was very sick and soon after he died. It was the last Christmas my whole family was together and it happened because of a TV movie. And even though it tends to make me a bit melancholy, every year I watch The Gathering over again.

By the way, many years later I sent a long overdue letter to Ed Asner to tell him this story and thank him. He called me at home to tell me how touched he was by the letter.

[What a tender story. Thanks for sharing it. Really. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 16, 2010 1:05 PM

Sarah said:

First thing first no matter what movie or special it is although only watched once a year I always have the same reaction I tell myself I'm not going to cry this time I know how it ends and I'm not going to cry but the second George Bailey's lip starts bleeding again the tears begin to flow.

To answer the question I would have to say my favorite thing to watch every year is "White Christmas." I'm not sure if it is because of the songs like 'Snow' 'Sisters' or 'Count Your Blessings' or just the fact that I LOVE Danny Kaye. Whatever the reason in the end a good Christmas show has to have a good story and when Bob and Phil get off the train and there is no snow in Vermont you hope, you know something magical is about to happen. Friendship, Romance and Music isn't that what the holidays are all about?
So it just isn't X-Mas till I see White Christmas.

Second place would go to that Folgers coffee ad when Peter returns home. Not just my favorite Christmas ad my favorite TV ad and I don't drink coffee.

Third the recent and very funny A Colbert Christmas-Love Nutmeg.

Family viewing is Emmet Otter's A Jug Band Christmas.

Comment posted on December 16, 2010 3:46 PM

Nancy said:

I love It's a Wonderful Life. Growing up, I saw a news report of a group who got together every year to watch it and have always wished I could do the same, but U have never pulled it off. Most years I don't see it; I spend Christmas with my husband's family who consider it too sappy. This year my husband gave me a great gift by watching it with me when it was on TV last Saturday night, and he said not a word. (A great feat for him, as one of his favorite passtimes is talking back to the TV.)

My other favorite Christmas TV memory is of Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas. I can still recall my father singing the bass part along with the show, even though he died many years ago. When I saw the show was out on video, I snapped up a copy.

Comment posted on December 16, 2010 5:09 PM

Eileen said:

What a beautiful post. Your story would make a great Christmas tv movie. Put a script together -- or get someone you know who is an able writer. This is just the sort of movie Lifetime or Oxygen would love. I'm serious, it's just a lovely.

To David and all his wonderful critics, have a Blessed Christmas Season.

[Same to you, Eileen. Thanks for being, and remaining, one of our most loyal and discerning readers. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 17, 2010 11:30 AM

Phillip R. Crabb said:

Sorry Dave, I'm a little late on this assignment.

Growing up in the '60s in NJ, with only 7 channels (and really only 4 that were clear) to choose from, the Christmas specials were something that were talked about ahead of time in school, Church, and the backyard playground.

It was, well, 'special'. I remember getting excited when the CBS 'Special Presentation' intro would play leading right into the opening of the kids singing 'Sleighbells in the Air' in "A Charlie Brown Christmas". The Dolly Madison and Coca-Cola Christmas-themed commercials. The Santa Claus seriding the Gillette (Ronson?) triple-head shaver through the snow.

"Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" with the 'newsreel' opening of the bad snowstorm (which was contemporary with the snow disaster in NYC that last year).

Two shows I watch (even though readily available on DVD) with my own kids 45 years later, sitting down as a family in front of the TV.

Red Skelton's annual Christmas skit with Clem Cadiddlehopper as the hobo and the little kid who was nice to him made me feel humble and thankful even as a 7 year old.

"Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates" with Richard Basehart....where were those gold coins hidden?....

The way that almost every network show took the pains to produce a 'special' Christmas show was great...and something to anticipate every year.

"White Christmas" and "It's a Wonderful Life," with perhaps two of the best payoff scenes in cinema.

Even WABC Radio, home of Cousin Brucie, would revert to traditional Christmas music starting Christmas Eve.

The Yule Log, which I believe was originally broadcast from the actual Gracie Mansion in NYC, with the music simulcasted on an FM station.

The Tree Lighting in Rockefeller Center, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol", Game Shows like Concentration with Santa Claus as a contestant,...it was a veritable cornucopia of Christmas Spirit.

I think I still look back on those days fondly, as I believe they were simpler times...when you could sit on the rug in front of the Magnovox and just enjoy the show.

Nowadays, well...I think they just go through the motions...pro-forma...with no real appreciation of what this season could mean to television.

I'm sure there's people making these decision who are now younger than us, Dave, and would sadly have no first-hand appreciation of what those days were like back then.

Frankly, Dave...I think it would behoove them to put you and I (and Diane) in charge of Thanksgiving-to-Christmas programming...and we could make sure things got spread out, and scheduled in correct proximity to the 'big day'.

Picture the Sunday before Christmas, "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" in the early 7:00pm Prime-Time slot, followed by "Charlie Brown Christmas" at 8:00pm. Throw the Grinch in at 8:30, and then either "White Christmas" or "Wonderful Life" at 9:00.

Get Coca-Cola, Nabisco, GE to sponsor (so you wouldn't have to worry about anything advising you to see a doctor after 4 hours)...and then the world would be right again.

For the other days between you, me, and Diane...we throw all the other good stuff in.

I think our 'Network' would pull in ratings that would be easily measured....

Best of the Holiday Season Dave, and thanks for keeping the torch of those great days shining bright.

Franklin, NJ

[Merry Christmas, Phil. And thanks for a list that could have come from MY house growing up. Are you my long-lost brother? -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 17, 2010 2:48 PM

Patti G said:

I like to see the fireplace that one of the local NY stations runs all Christmas eve, I think. The TV box becomes a fireplace. No heat, just light.

[I'll be watching the same thing. Good to know Yule be watching, too. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 18, 2010 10:00 AM

Christina said:

My favorite holiday viewing is different every year, but the circumstance is always the same. After supper on Christmas Eve, the family all gathers in the living room to watch a Christmas movie. At some point in the movie we break long enough to get "the goodies" out... cookies, fudge (both chocolate and peanut butter), cheese ball, cider, an entire spread of homemade deliciousness. The movie may be It's a Wonderful Life one year, Christmas Vacation the next, sometimes White Christmas. But no matter the movie, it's my favorite time of the year.

Thanks for the assignment. I've enjoyed sharing everyone's memories. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year TVWW!

[Your evening traditions sound delicious. I'm impressed... and salivating. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 18, 2010 4:12 PM

Jim Forkan said:

Our family considers George C. Scott's A Christmas Carol the best version, but for some reason it's always hard to find.

Christmas Vacation is good for some laughs -- especially Chevy Chase's "jelly of the month club" bonus rant (see the clip on YouTube) -- back when Randy Quaid was funny and not on the run from "star whackers."

Among the oldies, Miracle on 34th Street and Laurel & Hardy's March of the Wooden Soldiers are two particular family favorites.

On the other hand, I find most prime time series' Christmas-themed episodes are pretty lame -- including this year's crop, from NCIS and NCIS: LA to The Mentalist and Hawaii Five-O.

Our family used to love watching Rudolph, Frosty and the other Rankin/Bass classics, as well as Charlie Brown Christmas... before they were classics... and now our sons' children enjoy them as well.

Although the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting special is a viewing tradition for our family, I have to say it hasn't been too exciting in recent years. The latest outing was above-average, mostly because they seemed to include more performances than usual. Still, how could they have Mariah Carey as a guest -- and not have her sing (indeed, make her sing) "All I Want for Christmas Is You"? (Had to go to YouTube for that).

That Mariah hit was a throwback to the '60s Phil Spector girl group sound, back when Spector was a musical genius rather than a crazy murderer. Speaking of '60s music, Darlene Love's "Christmas (Please Come Home)" is thankfully a perennial fave on Letterman's late nighter. (There are clips on YouTube.)

One of the stand-out Christmas music specials starred Celine Dion a few years back, featuring her knockout rendition of "Oh Holy Night."
(Check out the YouTube clip.)Heard Mariah's version this past week on her special and, to us, it paled by comparison.

Looking back even further, my wife and I used to love the old yule specials starring Perry Como, Bing Crosby, etc. Check out the clip of Bing singing "Little Drummer Boy" with David Bowie of all people (after some awkward preliminary chatter)!! (A clip is on YouTube.)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

[This year's Letterman Christmas show is this Thursday! Don't forget. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 19, 2010 4:56 PM

Angela said:

You've already given an honorable mention to my favorite 2 shows. A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of my favorites. These days I'm Charlie who can't figure out the real meaning of Christmas. (I really need to watch that show again.) Just watching all the TV ads for Christmas gifts, (buy your sweetheart a car!) is enough to drive me nuts. Not to mention seeing holiday decorations in retail stores the day after Halloween.
But I digress. I don't have many childhood memories but I do remember how happy I was to receive a Snoopy wrist-watch one Christmas. And how upset I was when I lost it.

My other favorite is, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. My whole family would watch this every year. This was a huge deal for us kids because our family just didn't watch TV together that often. How happy I was to see this morning that it's playing on TV Worth Watching.

BTW, on another note, I watched a video that someone on here mentioned recently. Coffee With Frasier that was really sweet, on a wonderful site that had off all things, The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, Meatloaf and Steve Dahl.

What a blast from the past and what a great site for old shows and radio segments that I doubt can be found anywhere else. Thanks to the person who posted the link for that site.

[Diane's the one who picks the daily video clips -- and she surprised and thrilled ME with "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol," too. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 19, 2010 5:44 PM

Angela said:

Phillip, I love your idea! I missed much of this as a child, but I sure would love to watch your station now that I'm an "adult". Come to think of it Phil, WGN is starting a new station, called Antenna TV, which is set to debut on January 1, 2011. This new network is dedicated to the programming of classic TV shows. And for Christmas 2011, they plan on airing the Yule Log in its entirety. The station will be the permanent new home of the Yule Log. Maybe they will have a line-up of Christmas shows like yours, or perhaps you could drop them a line and let them know your thoughts. :)

For more on the Antenna Television Network, click below. http://www.wgnamerica.com/shows/antenna/

Patti G, Last year I remembered the Yule Log from childhood as I grew up outside Chicago. I spent hours on the official Yule Log site reading about its history. I sent emails to my entire family asking them to tape it for me because it wasn't being broadcast where I live. So far no-one has sent me a copy because it's a TIVO mystery on how to do that. (Sometimes I miss the good old days of VCR tapes.) I looked for it again this year, and still no luck. :( However it will be available next year if all goes well. (See above).

Merry Christmas to the folks at TV Worth Watching and everyone else who visits this site.

Comment posted on December 19, 2010 6:47 PM

Chris said:

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" is the winner. While there are others for me (including the second Peanuts special) that have been mentioned it isn't Christmas at our house unless we watch "Bedtime For Sniffles." He just has to stay awake for Santa Claus. 8 minutes of bliss.

Comment posted on December 21, 2010 1:32 PM

Phillip R. Crabb said:

I figure this might qualify for extra credit?

As this site will make you do, I reminisced long enough to remember it wasn't Clem Cadiddlehopper, but Freddy the Freeloader who had his annual "Christmas Dinner" skit on Red Skelton's show. A poignant presentation that paused this 9-year old's Christmas excitement to remember how thankful he should be especially at this time of year, and to remember to 'pray for the poor kids'.

Like you say, something you could curl up in a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate and watch in a room darkened except for the flicker of the television and the fireplace. And maybe the muffled clatter of a plow truck as it went by.

But, again, I digress. Those were the days. Makes you shake your head when this past Sunday night, what did they show...on the weekend before Christmas..?

Oh, of course....."Cleopatra"...which you would have had to stay up until 1 am to see to conclusion.....on a school night...did I mention the weekend before Christmas..?

Great mail-it-in programming.

The Defense rests...

Like they said in the Land of the Misfit Toys, might as well start dreaming about next year.

Keep the faith, Dave...Throw on "March of the Wooden Soldiers" and roast a few chestnuts!

Merry Christmas..!

[Dear Phil -- Thanks for the self-correction on Clem. My memory was so hazy on this, I didn't dare interfere. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 21, 2010 2:02 PM

Kate said:

My favorite Christmas tale is "The Bishop's Wife" with Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. While not strictly a Christmas story, the lovely story of an angle sent to help a Bishop and his family makes my holiday. I particularly love the Christmas eve sermon at the end of the film. It summarizes what Christmas is about for me.

"Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.

But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. Its his birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shinning gifts that make peace on earth."


Comment posted on December 22, 2010 2:32 PM

Chrissy said:

I grew up in Connecticut around the same time as Phillip Crabb and he summed up the Christmas television season perfectly. The only show not mentioned that my sisters and I really loved was House Without a Christmas Tree with Jason Robards. I believe it was a Hallmark Special?

Comment posted on December 23, 2010 1:06 AM

Leslie said:

Christmas would not be complete without a viewing of The Lion in Winter. It is just such a fantastic movie that it is probably my all time favorite. It is a Christmas movie. It takes place at the Christmas court at Chinon. Queen Eleanor(Katherine Hepburn) is even wrapping gifts

Comment posted on December 23, 2010 5:22 PM
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It's always interesting to see how TV and movies can evoke such strong emotions and memories during the holiday season. It's clear that holiday TV traditions are still going strong, and will continue to do so for generations to come.
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