A Charlie Brown Christmas


Debuted in 1965

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Charlie Brown is struggling to find the meaning of Christmas and takes on the task of directing the school Christmas play in order to get involved in the holiday. When none of his friends seem to have the Christmas spirit either, Charlie gets frustrated. But Linus explains the meaning of the holiday (as written in the bible) and everyone comes together as friends to celebrate and sing a carol at the end.

Fun Fact: This special marked the first time that children were hired to voice child characters in an animated show. Those roles were usually filled by adults.

Bonus Fun Fact: This special also killed off the aluminum Christmas tree industry. Just two years after the special aired for the first time, throwing shade at aluminum trees, the previously popular trees were no longer being manufactured.

My thoughts: Gosh, it’s hard to capture a nutshell opinion about a special that’s been a part of Christmas for my entire life. And there’s probably not much I can tell you about this one that you don’t already know. It broke tons of new ground and everyone thought it was going to be a disaster, especially when they insisted on keeping the religious aspect in after many people tried to talk them out of it. Of course, Linus’s speech is an emotional high point in the show that still resonates with me even now as a non-religious person. The special is funny, it’s touching and Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy soundtrack is required Christmas listening at our house. In many ways, it set the standard for animated holiday specials and yet there are surprisingly few tags or common Christmas tropes to be seen here. It’s a superb classic.

Psychiatric Help

I doubt that she has a license to practice psychiatry.

Little Tree

And just like that, scrawny little trees everywhere got a second chance.

Meaning of Christams

A boy with a blanket can always be trusted.


I sing just like this.

Individual Superlative: Best Dance Moves – Come on, admit it. You have a favorite of the kids’ dance moves and are inclined to break into it every time you hear ‘Linus & Lucy’. For me, it’s the one with the head bop from side to side.

Want to Watch it? A Charlie Brown Christmas is available in just about every format available and it still comes on network TV every year.


Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends: A Lost Claus


Debuted in 2005

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: It’s Bloo’s first Christmas at Foster’s and he’s upset when he learns that he is only going to get one present. Meanwhile, Mac is starting to lose his faith in Santa and while trying to prove his existence, he causes trouble for Eduardo, Wilt and Coco. Bloo’s idea to coax Mr. Herriman to give everyone more presents backfires when Mr. Herriman cancels Christmas, but Santa shows up to save the day.

Fun Fact: This is currently the only episode of the show that is not available in any digital store.

My thoughts: As with many contemporary cartoon shows, the Christmas episode was the first episode I ever saw of this series. That can sometimes be an issue, but this is a good example of a show that you don’t need to know well in order to enjoy. You get the gist of the story right away and the characters are fun and entertaining. Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends was created by Craig McCracken, who also gave us The Powerpuff Girls and it has the same balance of humor and heart. (This may be why Mac gets a copy of The Art of The Powerpuff Girls for Christmas.) There’s a lot of room for creativity in a show about imaginary friends, but McCracken has a good sense for when to rein it in so that it’s not non-stop crazy. This one is funny and sweet, with lots of great memorable moments.


Eduardo is my favorite.

Madame Foster

Madame Foster has a tough time stringing popcorn garland.

Santa Battle

There are multiple imaginary Santas at Foster’s and sometimes they have to duke it out.

Bob Marley

Bloo haunts Mr. Herriman as the ghost of Bob Marley.

Individual Superlative: In Charlie’s Footsteps – There are lots of homages to A Charlie Brown Christmas here, including the jazzy piano soundtrack and even a glimpse of Snoopy’s prize-winning decorated dog house.

Want to Watch it? Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends: A Lost Claus is available on DVD.

The Simpsons: Simpsons Christmas Stories

TitleDebuted in 2005

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: In the first story, Homer Simpson has to lead the Christmas service at church and he tells a very different version of the nativity. In the second, Grampa tells the story of his long-standing resentment of Santa Claus, after Santa left him stranded on a desert island during the war. The third story is a comical look at Christmas in Springfield, set to songs from The Nutcracker.

Fun Fact: When Bart (as baby Jesus) performs the miracle of turning wine to water, he does the head nod from I Dream of Jeannie.

My thoughts: The very first episode of The Simpsons was a Christmas special and they have done another 11 Christmas-themed episodes since then. This one is a compilation episode comprised of three separate comic stories, all based around Christmas. I enjoyed all three of these stories, but the last one was probably the funniest to me. The notion that Homer’s realization that “The Nutcracker Suite” is in the public domain leads to a series of vignettes featuring the residents of Springfield, including a montage of Moe attempting suicide (which is probably very offensive to some) and a very sweet scene in which Marge’s gift to Homer is a gift for him to give to her, since she knew he’d forget to get one. This isn’t my favorite of the Simpsons Christmas specials, but it is a pretty funny one that I always enjoy watching.

If Bart is the savior, we're all doomed.

If Bart is the savior, we’re all doomed.

Santa and young Mr. Burns make a very cute couple.

Santa and young Mr. Burns make a very cute couple.

Lisa and Millhouse make a less convincing couple than Santa and Mr. Burns.

Lisa and Millhouse make a more awkward couple than Santa and Mr. Burns.

Because Christmas is doing for others what they would have done for you if you hadn't done it for them already.

Because Christmas is doing for others what they would have done for you if you hadn’t done it for them already.

Individual Superlative: Most Mischievous Newborn King – Bart Simpson as baby Jesus? Ay caramba!

Want to Watch it? The Simpsons: Christmas Stories is available on the Season 17 DVD or Blu-ray set.

Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas

TitleDebuted in 1992

25 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Dr. Claw kidnaps Santa and hypnotizes the elves to work for him, breaking toys so that children will lose faith in Santa Claus. Inspector Gadget is sent to the North Pole to deal with the situation, but he thinks Dr. Claw is the real Santa so he is easily overpowered and thrown into a cell. Penny and Brain free the elves, restore order and save Christmas.

Fun Fact: This special was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, but lost out to an episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Here’s a bonus fun fact – the Inspector Gadget theme song shares its first several notes with Grieg’s classic, “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” but played in a different rhythm.

My thoughts: I have never been a fan of Inspector Gadget. The whole ‘let’s watch a bumbling person screw up at every turn” genre has never been something I really enjoyed, except in a few cases. (And the gadget thing is a little creepy…especially the telescoping neck.) So clearly, this is not a special that gets much play around our house. It’s not awful, although the constant repetition of catch phrases gets a little mind-numbing after a while. There are some carols sung with new lyrics that are funny. And Dr. Claw’s plot to undermine kids’ trust in Santa is pretty nefarious, because you’re striking at something deeper than just taking away their presents. Having emotional damage as a goal? That’s a scary villain.

Okay, having extra abilities would come in pretty handy during holiday decorating.

Okay, having extra abilities would come in pretty handy during holiday decorating.

Combining two common gags here - the ridiculously long Christmas list AND the grown-up on Santa's lap.

Combining two common gags here – the ridiculously long Christmas list AND the grown-up on Santa’s lap.

Penny is trapped inside a Jack-in-the-Box and still manages to save everyone. Why isn't she President?

Penny is trapped inside a Jack-in-the-Box and still manages to save everyone. Why isn’t she President?

It's just not a Christmas special without a group shot of everyone waving and shouting "Merry Christmas!"

It’s just not a Christmas special without a group shot of everyone waving and shouting “Merry Christmas!”

Individual Superlative: Scariest Santa Voice – Hearing Dr. Claw’s deep guttural voice doing Santa’s trademark ‘ho ho ho’ could make you board up your chimney.

Want to Watch it? Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas is available on VHS, DVD, iTunes & Amazon Instant. You can also watch it on YouTube.

Jingle and Bell’s Christmas Star

TitleDebuted in 2012

30 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Beach girl Sofia moves to Pineville with her parents and her husky pup, Bell, into the house next door to Andrew’s family and their husky pup, Jingle. Sofia has trouble adjusting to her new locale, but Andrew tries to help by becoming her friend. When he is chosen to put the star on the town’s Christmas tree, he lets Sofia do it and she feels welcome and happy in her new home.

Fun Fact: This special is pretty much a 30 minute Hallmark commercial, so there’s not a lot of facts out there about it. So I’ll give you a fact about Keith Urban, who performs ‘Jingle Bells’ in this special – he posed for Playgirl in 2001.

My thoughts: I enjoyed the original special that featured Andrew and Jingle, 2011’s Jingle All the Way. The stop motion animation, from Bent Image Lab, is visually wonderful. It feels contemporary, but with a cool vintage undertone that seems like an homage to the Rankin-Bass stop motion specials from my childhood. There’s nothing really special about the story, but it’s cute and would probably be enjoyed by younger kids, especially those who can relate to the issue of feeling uprooted and spending Christmas in a new town. Of course, Hallmark has ornaments, storybooks and plush toys of these characters, so if you’re a fan, there are lots of ways to make them part of your Christmas

As a dog lover, I find these two adorable.

As a dog lover, I am genetically predisposed to find these two adorable.

Subtle plug for donating to charity.  Check.

Subtle plug for donating to charity. Check.

"Let's hurry and draw a name so I can go back to my detailed diagram of DNA replication!"

“Let’s hurry and draw a name so I can go back to my detailed diagram of DNA replication!”

Bruce builds a snowman just to kick it over.  Who's a big grumpy pants?

Bruce builds a snowman just to kick it over. Who’s a big grumpy pants?

Individual Superlative: Quickest Reformation of Bratty Kid – Bruce is a mean and destructive jerk through the whole special, but when Sofia asks him to come with them, he instantly becomes their super nice BFF.

Want to Watch it? Jingle and Bell’s Christmas Star is available on DVD & iTunes. It also regularly shows up on the Hallmark Channel during December.

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All

TitleDebuted in 2008
43 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Stephen Colbert is trapped (by a bear) inside a mountain cabin when he should be in New York, taping his Christmas special with Elvis Costello. Friends stop by and perform musical numbers with him and an angel grants his wish, bringing Elvis Costello to the cabin, where he is eaten by the bear. Santa saves Elvis and reveals that the special is on DVD, which is the greatest gift of all.

Fun Fact: Stephen told all of his fans to download the soundtrack from iTunes at a specific time so that it would overtake Kanye West’s album. He called it Operation Humble Kanye.

My thoughts: There are lots of things I like about this special and I’m glad that it’s become one of those that Comedy Central replays every year. This format, which mimics those old cheesy (and yet awesome) Christmas specials from singers like Andy Williams or Perry Como, really works for Colbert’s television persona. The songs, most of which were written by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, are fantastic and it was no surprise when the soundtrack won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album. The inclusion of an acoustic version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” is wonderful, throwing a little warmth and heart into the special. I really enjoy this one.

Stephen and Elvis

Elvis Costello looks like he’s having so much fun during this show.

John Legend

From what I know of nutmeg, it probably didn’t mind being objectified in this song.

Toby Keith

You can actually find this video on some conservative websites, where they don’t seem to know it’s intended as a satire.


If these two can be friends, there’s hope for all of us!

Individual Superlative: Most Inappropriate Gift for Baby Jesus – Marijuana is just not an appropriate gift for the infant son of God.  (Or the infant son of pretty much anyone, to be honest.  Even if it is on their registry.)

Want to Watch it? A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All is available on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes. It usually airs in reruns on Comedy Central during the holidays.