Definitive Ranking of the 12 Best Holiday Specials

There’s a very specific type of holiday content that exists in that area between TV episodes and full movies. Sometimes they’re special episodes of a TV show or just stand-alone pieces themselves. If you’re in the mood for some holiday specials and you can’t decide on just one, here’s my personal ranking of the 12 best ones out there. 


12. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

It’s weird. There’s a heavy-handed anti-commercialist message, there’s a courtroom scene where Santa is on trial for kidnapping, and — yes — Grandma gets run over by a reindeer.... more than once. The plot is really just all over the place, but it’s a winner if this happens to be your very specific niche. 


11. Frosty the Snowman

 Look I know that this might be the first of several controversial choices, but Frosty literally dies?? Are we all just agreeing not to talk about that?


10. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer A classic: I love me a Bumble (the Abominable Snow Monster), but the really intense bullying of Rudolph has always rubbed me the wrong way. Also, who allowed my boy Santa to be depicted as kind of a jerk? The music is awesome, though.


9. Shrek the Halls

 Do I love Shrek? Yes. So am I biased? Yes. Am I wrong? Absolutely not. 


8. Santa Claus is Coming to Town

 Overall not necessarily one of my favorites, but with the inclusion of bops like “One Foot in Front of the Other” and obviously the titular anthem, it gets pushed up in the rankings


7. Care Bears Nutcracker Suite

You can consistently win me over with a good Nutcracker special. 


6. Spongebob Squarepants: Christmas Who?

 This special features the introduction of Spongebob Squarepants fan favorites Patchy the Pirate and Potty the Parrot. The storyline, discovering the meaning of Christmas, the general spread of holiday cheer? It’s all amazing. Also, more great Christmas music.


5. SNL Holiday Special

 It’s a tradition in my house to watch this every year and it has been for as long as I can remember. While everyone will have some skits that they like more than others, I guarantee that there will be at least one for everyone. Justin Timberlake dressed as soup and having a head to head face off with Santa on the street? Iconic. Steve Martin’s holiday wish for fame, fortune and all of the little children to hold hands? Hilarious. The deadpan dance to “I Wish it Was Christmas Today” is comedy gold. From Schweddy Balls to the Hanukkah song, SNL continuously knocks it out of the park.


4. Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse

 Nutcracker AND Christmas Carol stories! Beloved Disney characters spanning all different movies! It’s on Netflix! Sign me UP.


3. The Year Without a Santa Claus

One of my favorite hot takes; Santa needs a break because don’t we all? The story alone of all of the children coming together to give Santa the time off that he deserves (and of course — spoiler alert —Santa coming through in the end) is enough to make this special a winner. Add in the fabulous Heat Miser/Snow Miser storyline and musical numbers, and this classic is untouchable.


2. A Charlie Brown Christmas

An adorable classic that never fails. Between the iconic dancing scene, Linus’s telling of the story of Christmas, and of course Charlie Brown’s love for the sad tree, this special is always a crowd pleaser. 


1. Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas 

He’s mean, he’s green, and he’s here to steal hearts as well as Christmas. Going from a grouchy recluse who lives alone in a cave with his dog to cutting the roast beast with the BIGGEST heart is a transformation that truly speaks to the meaning of Christmas. I also dare you to find me a Christmas song better than “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch.”  


If you have a movie night coming up in the next couple of weeks, consider any of these 12 specials to add some fun holiday cheer!