Article: Holiday TV Specials for 2016 in the United States
We’ve rounded up this season’s can’t-miss holiday TV specials to keep your family entertained from Thanksgiving all the way through the New Year. Whether you like ’em heartwarming, quirky, funny, or even scary, you’ll find traditional faves, worthy underdogs, and a few new additions to the classic holiday-special canon. Though not all these shows feature families (or even humans!), they embody the spirit of togetherness, warmth, and tradition. (Check your local listings to confirm show dates and times.)
Friends, Thanksgiving episodes, age 14+, streaming on Netflix
Each season of Friends contains a classic Thanksgiving episode, often highlighting time spent with good (you guessed it) friends rather than family. Start with Season 5’s “The One with All the Thanksgivings” to see Joey’s iconic turkey-on-the-head scare.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, age 4+, Nov. 23, 8 p.m., ABC
Charlie Brown finds himself hosting a Thanksgiving meal for his friends. Thanks to some philosophical words from Linus and Marcie, the Peanuts gang comes to realize the true meaning of the holiday.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, age 5+, Nov. 25, 8 p.m., ABC
With a little Christmas magic — and a lot of help from his friends — Kris Kringle, the future Santa, is determined to get his toys into the hands of good boys and girls. His efforts lay the groundwork for an annual celebration of giving for the world.
Saturday Night Live Thanksgiving Special, age 14+, Nov. 25, 9 p.m., NBC
Will Halloween favorite David S. Pumpkins be back for a Turkey Day pumpkin pie? Who knows what this Thanksgiving special will serve up, but it’ll certainly include at least a few hilarious holiday-themed sketches to watch with your teens.
Kung Fu Panda Holiday, age 5+, Nov. 27, 9 p.m., CW
Tasked with hosting the formal Winter Feast for the kung fu masters, Po is torn between his responsibilities as a Dragon Warrior and his desire to spend the holiday with his dad. In his own unique way, he manages to strike a balance that gives everyone a happy holiday.
Frosty the Snowman, age 3+, Nov. 28, 8 p.m., CBS
Watch Frosty, a roly-poly goofball with a heart of gold, strike up a friendship with cute kid Karen as he tries to get to the North Pole in this animated 1960s classic.
Merry Madagascar, age 6+, Nov. 28, 9:30 p.m., CW
When Santa’s sleigh crash-lands on Madagascar and he’s stricken with amnesia, the animal crew steps up to save Christmas. Fans of the movies should love this special, which mixes feel-good messages about generosity, caring, and compassion with plenty of silly stuff.
Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas, age 6+, Nov. 29, 8 p.m., FOX
Families will have fun with this prehistoric crew’s unusual versions of favorite holiday tunes. The story incorporates the origins of popular Christmas traditions — and Skrat’s never-ending search for acorns, of course.
Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: “Circle of Love,” OK for tweens, Nov. 30, 9 p.m., NBC
Beloved country star Dolly Parton is the inspiration for this holiday tale, following her own history growing up poor in rural Tennessee. Circle of Love sees young Dolly discovering her voice while watching her parents sacrifice for the family.
A Charlie Brown Christmas, age 3+, Dec. 1, 8 p.m., ABC
Charlie Brown discovers the true meaning of Christmas when he buys a forlorn little tree and celebrates Peanuts-style with his friends. This beloved classic special communicates a timeless message brimming with holiday spirit.
Shrek the Halls, age 6+, Dec. 3, 8:30 p.m., ABC
While everyone else is filled with cheer for the upcoming holiday, ornery Shrek has no desire to celebrate. For the sake of Fiona and their babies, he attempts to do his part to make the family’s first holiday together a memorable one. Unfortunately, his friends take Shrek’s lack of yuletide joy as cause for intervention and show up unannounced on his doorstep to “help.”
The X-Files: “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” age 14+, streaming on Hulu
For your teens who are too cool to watch anything sappy, this standalone holiday episode traps Scully and Mulder inside a haunted house, where they spend the spookiest Christmas Eve ever.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, age 3+, Dec. 1, 8 p.m., CBS
The holiday standard gets the stop-motion treatment in this quirky, delightful hero’s journey to discovering his true self. Finding it a hard sell? Kids who love Will Ferrell in Elf will be tickled to find Buddy’s origins in this retro, Rankin/Bass Productions world.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, age 4+, Dec. 1, 9 p.m., Freeform; Dec. 2, 9 p.m., NBC
Did you know your heart grows three sizes every time you watch this special? It’s nearly impossible not to be moved by the green antihero’s redemption tale. Just try watching him serve that first slice of roast beast to his trusty dog without a grin on your face.
Jack Frost, age 4+, Dec. 2, 12 p.m., Freeform
More of a wintery tale than a specifically holiday-themed story, this special is a great alternative for those looking for a non-Christmas story. Jack wants to become human so he can win the heart of Elisa, a local villager — but Father Winter wants to compromise.
Saturday Night Live Christmas Special, age 14+, Dec. 3, 9 p.m., NBC
No one skewers the holidays like SNL; expect classic characters such as Alec Baldwin’s Pete Schweddy sharing his favorite recipe, see what Stefon’s got up his sleeve for Christmas activities, and listen to Adam Sandler’s gem “The Hanukkah Song.”
Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, age 7+, Dec. 10, 9 p.m., NBC
Dolly knows she’s destined for a future far away from her humble beginnings in Sevier County, Tennessee, but for now, the family farm and the love of her parents is all she needs. But then tragedy strikes, pulling the family apart. Her mother copes by creating the titular patchwork coat for Dolly, which leads to lessons in compassion and hope.
Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, age 5+, Dec. 12, 12:30 p.m., Freeform
This early special from Jim Henson features a down-home family of otters with a whole lot of heart, lots of sweet songs, and the kookiest villains ever (evil reptile rockers the Riverbottom Nightmare Band).
The Goldbergs: “Han Ukkah Solo,” age 14+, Dec. 14, 8 p.m., ABC
Prepare for the standard ’80s flashbacks with a holiday flair in this Hanukkah-themed episode. The kids try to milk their moment in the spotlight when their school’s holiday pageant only allows room for a single Hanukkah song.
Toy Story That Time Forgot, age 4+, Dec. 15, 8 p.m., ABC
Set days after Christmas, this action-packed treat offers plenty of positive messages about friendship, loyalty, and being true to yourself as Woody and the gang go face-to-face with a colony of battle-ready dinosaurs.
Prep & Landing, age 4+, Dec. 17, 8 p.m., ABC; Prep and Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, 8:30 p.m.
An elite organization of elves makes sure each and every home is ready for Santa. It’s serious business for Wayne, who after 227 years is ready for a promotion in this flight-themed buddy comedy. Sequel Naughty vs. Nice finds Wayne and his crew dealing with a hacker trying to program their way onto the nice list.
Yes, Virginia, age 4+, Dec. 18, 8:30 p.m., ABC
A stellar voice cast (Neil Patrick Harris, Alfred Molina) and charming CGI animation give curious Virginia’s sweet tale a fresh life.
I Love Lucy Christmas, age 6+, Dec. 23, 8 p.m., CBS
A classic holiday episode is a great way to introduce your kids to Lucille Ball’s comedic legacy. The usual lineup of unwitting participants includes neighbors Fred and Ethel and Lucy’s loving but frustrated hubby, Ricky. Hijinks ensue.
Happy New Year, Charlie Brown, age 4+, Dec. 26, 8 p.m., ABC
Circumstances cause the Peanuts gang to create their own traditions, and while they may not always find total success (does Charlie Brown ever get to kick that football?), friendship always saves the day.
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, age 3+, Dec. 26, 9 p.m., ABC
This Rankin and Bass stop-motion animated holiday special takes place after Rudolph’s triumphant Christmas. Now he has to help Father Time find Happy, the Baby New Year, in time for New Year’s Eve.
About the Author Polly Conway
As Common Sense Media’s TV Editor, Polly is responsible for championing the latest and greatest in TV for kids and families. She’s an expert in the realm of shows that are created for (and/or appeal to — not always the same thing!) kids, tweens, and teens, with a particular focus on educational television for young kids. An enthusiastic advocate for positive representation of girls and women in media, she also has her finger on the pulse of pop culture and speaks to the press regularly about the good and bad of kids’ TV (recent highlights include a chat with the legendary Weird Al!). Before coming to Common Sense, Polly spent time developing her own writing career and served as an educator in Oakland’s diverse schools. Both helped her discover a deep desire to give kids the best possible media experiences. Additionally, her BA in Acting from San Francisco State and MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts have given her a unique understanding of how great media is created, and she’s always happy to discuss any episode of her #1 whole-family TV pick, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Email Polly at email@example.com or find her on Twitter.
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