What’s the official mark of the beginning of the holiday season? Nope, it’s not the sound of “Jingle Bells” on the radio or the sight of wreaths and twinkle lights on storefronts, but holiday specials on the tube. From classic movies like It’s a Wonderful Life to Wednesday’s Saturday Night Live Christmas show, the programming options are endless. So whip out that eggnog-flavored popcorn (did we just invent that?) and enjoy the festivities.
Here are our picks for the 12 specials you won’t want to miss (check the schedule on the following pages for additional showtimes):
A Charlie Brown Christmas, Wednesday, 8 p.m. on ABC
Although it’s the first prime-time animated TV special based on the Peanuts comic strip, the 1965 cartoon about the over-commercialization of Christmas still rings true today.
It’s a Wonderful Life, Dec. 1, 8 p.m. on NBC
The holiday season just wouldn’t be the same without at least one viewing of Frank Capra’s classic 1947 drama. The scene of George (James Stewart) running back home to find his friends and family waiting for him with donations in hand will make even the biggest grinch misty-eyed.
Elf, Dec. 1, 8 p.m. on ABC Family
Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel will inspire you to join the “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” sing-along and raise Santa’s sleigh with the holiday spirit.
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dec. 2, 7 p.m. on ABC Family
I’m not going to lie, those Whovillians creeped me out as a child, but it’s time to revisit the film as an adult.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Dec. 3, 8 p.m. on ABC Family
Watching the Griswolds’ dysfunctional family shenanigans will give you new-found patience for your rowdy clan. Also, I’m sure you’ve completely forgotten that Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, Doris Roberts, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus starred in the film so if not for Chevy Chase, watch it for them.
Blake Shelton’s Not So Family Christmas, Dec. 3, 10 p.m. on NBC
Even if you’re more rock & roll than country, The Voice judge is bound to convert you to strum guitars for the other team. The singer’s first Christmas special will feature a duet with his songwriter mom Dorothy Shackleford, performances from wife Miranda Lambert, Kelly Clarkson, and Reba McEntire; and appearances from Christina Aguilera, Larry the Cable Guy, and Jay Leno.
Jack Frost (1979), Dec. 4, 6:30 p.m. on ABC Family
It’s the age-old story of boy meet girl, boy sacrifices immortality for girl, boy offers a house, horse, and bag of gold to girl and girl proceeds to break boy’s heart. What else is new?
Home Alone, Dec. 5, 7 p.m. on ABC Family
If only Macaulay Culkin could have stayed young and innocent forever. Alas, we’ll always have the Home Alone films to remember his effervescence.
The Polar Express, Dec. 5, 9 p.m. on ABC Family
Robert Zemeckis’ breathtaking motion capture computer-animated film will make you believe in magic again.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol, Dec. 6, 8 p.m. on ABC Family
Zemeckis’ other directorial masterpiece offers the perfect retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. It stars the perpetual-miser Jim Carrey (he also played the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas) as Ebeneezer Scrooge, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, and other Hollywood heavyweights.
Saturday Night Live, Dec. 15, 11:30 p.m. on NBC
Schweddy balls and d***s in boxes will be tough to beat, but SNL alumnus Martin Short and Paul McCartney will surely bring the holiday laughs. Maybe Ed Grimley will get a visit from Santa instead of the devil this year.
A Christmas Story, Dec. 24, 8 p.m. on TBS (24 hr. marathon)
It’s no way to spend Christmas day, but it certainly beats eating “Chinese turkey.” So quit your bellyaching, open your disappointing Christmas presents, and situate yourself back in front of the TV.
NEXT: Here’s the full schedule: