”This is my house, I have to defend it.” —Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) in Home Alone
”Santa!!! Oh my God!!! Santa here? I know him! I know him!” —Buddy (Will Ferrell) in Elf
”I want an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle!” —Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) in A Christmas Story
”Put on your yarmulke/ Here comes Chanukah” —Adam Sandler (”The Chanukah Song”) on Saturday Night Live
”Look, Daddy! Teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” —Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) in It’s a Wonderful Life
”We’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f—ing Kaye.” —Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
A Caroling Cage Match
Who’s the king (or queen) of Christmas? Four artists croon for the crown in this holiday-music smackdown. —Kyle Anderson
Wrapped in Red, 2013
Number of Holiday Albums Sold: 763K
Best Addition to the Christmas Canon: ”Wrapped in Red”, a jaunty Wall of Sound throwback
Bah, Humbug Moment: ”Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is always creepy, and the addition of Ronnie Dunn makes it 64 percent creepier
Christmas Special Counts: 1 — Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale
Key Holiday TV Moments: The glamour shot of the dude playing the tubular bells during the performance of Underneath the Tree in her 2013 special
Let It Snow, 2003
Number of Holiday Albums Sold: 4.1M
Best Addition to the Christmas Canon: ”Cold December Night”, which sounds improvised after a few yuletide cocktails
Bah, Humbug Moment: As though we needed reminding, ”Blue Christmas” drives home that Bublé is no Elvis
Christmas Special Counts: 4 — A Michael Bublé Christmas, Home for the Holidays, Michael Bublé’s Third Annual Christmas Special
Key Holiday TV Moments: Making gingerbread cookies with celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo in his 2011 special Home for Christmas
Merry Christmas, 1994
Merry Christmas II You, 2010
Number of Holiday Albums Sold: 5.8M
Best Addition to the Christmas Canon: ”All I Want for Christmas Is You”, an instant classic
Bah, Humbug Moment: There’s little festivity in her overwrought Joy to the World
Christmas Special Counts: 1 — Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas to You
Key Holiday TV Moments: Harmonizing with her mother on ”O Come All Ye Faithful” in her 2010 special Merry Christmas to You
Number of Holiday Albums Sold: 5.7M
Best Addition to the Christmas Canon: ”Thankful”, a song so earnest it should be sung by a cartoon mouse looking for his family
Bah, Humbug Moment: ”I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, made even more treacly by the addition of messages from soldiers
Christmas Special Counts:0
Key Holiday TV Moments: Introducing new Christmas songs — including ”God Rest You Mary Steenburgen” — on Late Show With David Letterman in 2013
Tiny Tim Through the Times
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has long been a staple of the holiday canon. Here, its intriguing evolution, from short story to hologram. —Kat Ward
1843: The original novella is published by Charles Dickens.
1901: Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost — The British short is the first known film adaptation.
1910: Il Sogno Dell’usuraio — he first and only Italian twirl on the tale.
1916: The Right to Be Happy — Starring Rupert Julian, a feature-length Carol from the silent-film era.
1935: Scrooge — Seymour Hicks’ second turn as miser.
1947: A Christmas Carol — Long before Allison Williams took on Peter Pan, live TV broadcasts of Carol were popular during the ’40s. This one starred John Carradine and Eva Marie Saint.
1948: Dickens’ Christmas Carol — A TV special performed entirely with marionettes.
1949: A Christmas Carol — Maybe it was all the ghosts that drew Vincent Price to narrate the holiday classic.
1951: Scrooge — The film with Alastair Sim is considered one of the best Carols out there.
1955: A Christmas Carol — This TV version was the first to set the story in the modern era: Scrooge is president of a plastics company.
1957: The Trail to Christmas — Cowboy Jimmy Stewart retells a Western-tinged Carol to an adorable moppet.
1962: Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol
1964: A Carol for Another Christmas — Rod Serling’s take on Christmas Future is a nuclear wasteland.
1967: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour — A parody within the show starring Jack Benny as Bob Cratchit.
1970: Scrooge — Albert Finney and Alec Guinness sing!
1973: Marcel Marceau Presents a Christmas Carol — A one-man mimed performance.
1975: The Passions of Carol — A hard-core porn ”adaptation.”
1979: An American Christmas Carol — Aaay, humbug! It’s the Fonz as Scrooge.
1983: Mickey’s Christmas Carol
1988: Scrooged — Bill Murray!
1992: The Muppet Christmas Carol — Only the coldest heart would be unmoved by Michael Caine’s holiday transformation at the hands of everyone’s favorite puppets.
1995: Ebbie — Susan Lucci plays Scrooge for Lifetime.
1997: Ms. Scrooge — Cicely Tyson’s miser forgoes ”Humbug!” for ”Garbage!”
2000: A Diva’s Christmas Carol — Stars Vanessa Williams. Naturally.
2001: Christmas Carol: The Movie — A cast of all-star voices (Nicolas Cage!) can’t save this animated clunker.
2003: A Carol Christmas — Tori Spelling’s icy talk-show host finds her humanity…in a TV movie.
2004: A Christmas Carol: The Musical — Kelsey Grammer’s Scrooge belts out Alan Menken’s jams.
2009: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past — The unfortunate rom-com retelling.
2014: Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol — A holographic Dolly plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, which you can still catch today at Dollywood.
Criminally Underrated Movies
For every It’s A Wonderful Life there’s a Black Christmas languishing under the tree. Give yourself the gift of these deserving films.
[If you like a spine tingle with your tinsel…]
Black Christmas (1974)
Forget the rotten 2006 remake. The Canadian original, about a killer stalking a sorority house — and featuring a pre-Lois Lane Margot Kidder — is the real deal. Forty years later, the film still perturbs (that stabbing set against children caroling — brrrr!).
[If you like a historical spin on the holidays…]
A Midnight Clear (1992)
It’s Christmas on the battlefield, WWII is nearing its end, and Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise, and Peter Berg are Army scouts planning a fake firefight so a group of German soldiers can surrender safely. More heartbreaking than heartwarming, this tale will make you yearn for peace on earth.
[If you believe Christmas is the most romantic holiday…]
The Holiday (2006)
Home exchange, international romance, and the most gorgeous Nancy Meyers set since Something’s Gotta Give? If you don’t fall for this romantic flick — starring the charming foursome of Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet — you have a Grinch-size heart.
[If you’re looking for a nightmare before Christmas…]
Rare Exports (2010)
What’s the true meaning of Christmas? Monster-y terror, according to Finnish director Jalmari Helander, whose tale about an archaeological dig that goes horribly wrong may well be the most entertainingly twisted Father Christmas-oriented film ever made.
[If you celebrate the season with a good Bordeaux…]
A Christmas Tale (2008)
French maestro Arnaud Desplechin puts a new spin on the dysfunctional-home-for-the-holidays trope with this film that is both lofty (characters quote Nietzsche) and intimate. Catherine Deneuve is at her best as a matriarch who refuses to be gloomy about her cancer diagnosis.
[If you always envied your friend’s big family…]
The Family Stone (2005)
It’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner when Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings uptight girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet his family. Well-placed barbs and a boozy night out with brother Ben (Luke Wilson) are infused with plenty of heart — just not too much.
[If you want something kid-(and adult-) friendly…]
Prep & Landing (2009)
This cute short shines the spotlight on some unsung heroes: the elite team of elves who ready homes for the big guy’s landing. Sweet but not sugary, so you won’t mind viewing it with the little ones — and it’s so clever you might even rewatch it once they’re all snug in their beds.
[If twinkling lights make you go postal…]
The Ref (1994)
This comedy follows a thief (Denis Leary) who holds a couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) hostage in their home on Christmas Eve. Ted Demme directed this all-star cast (Christine Baranski! J.K. Simmons!) from a script that has more zingers than a fruitcake has nuts.
The Best Yuletide Albums
Anybody can warble a passable ”Silent Night,” but great full-length holiday albums are red-nosed-reindeer special. —Kyle Anderson
A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra (1957)
A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector (1963)
With Darlene Love, the Ronettes
The Ventures’ Christmas Album (1965)
A Soulful Christmas (1968)
Natty Christmas (1978)
A Very Special Christmas (1987)
featuring Run D.M.C.’s ”Christmas in Hollis”
The Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time (1989)
Dr. Demento Presents
Christmas With Johnny Cash (2003)
Hey, celebrity, what’s your holiday pick?
”’Jingle Bells?’ by Barbra Streisand. The energy of it gets me so pumped that I refrain from killing those inconsiderate mall shoppers hopped up on hot chocolate.” —Retta (Parks and Recreation)
”’I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ is adorable and reminds me of my parents on Christmas. They were always snuggled up.” —Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin)
”Home Alone. I just love it. Even Home Alone 2, which is basically Home Alone 1, identical, but with a scary older lady rather than a scary older man.” —Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
”Jingle All the Way. It never fails to make me laugh.” —Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1)
”It depends on if I’m feeling a bad-boy Christmas or a nostalgic Christmas. If I’m bad-boyin’ it, I will watch Bad Santa (all hail Lauren Graham), but if I’m cozying up with the family, I’ll be tearing up on the couch to It’s a Wonderful Life.” —Mae Whitman (Parenthood)
”The Temptations’ version of ‘Silent Night.’ You can’t beat that one.” —Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up)
Must-See Holiday TV
Six geese a-laying have nothing on these six classic episodes. —Marc Snetiker
Seinfeld, ”The Strike”
George (Jason Alexander) concocts a fake charity to avoid holiday gifting, but it’s dad Frank’s (Jerry Stiller) alt-holiday Festivus (you know, for the rest of us) that became one of Seinfeld‘s most enduring pop culture contributions.
The Simpsons, ”Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”
The series’ debut serves a heaping helping of the family values that underpin the comedy (Homer moonlights as a mall Santa to ease their money woes). But its real legacy is the arrival of beloved dog Santa’s Little Helper.
The West Wing, ”In Excelsis Deo”
The drama’s first Christmas finds Richard Schiff’s communications chief Toby arranging a military burial for a homeless vet. The Emmy-winning episode set the bar for Wing‘s future holidays in the White House.
The O.C., ”The Best Chrismukkah Ever”
Hanukkah and Christmas collide in Seth Cohen’s (Adam Brody) merry mash-up Chrismukkah. Though The O.C. has been relegated to the depths of the DVD bin, the holiday ep is perhaps the shiniest remnant of a series gone awry.
The Office (U.K.), ”Christmas Special”
(After Season 2)
The two-part special concluding the series revisits the offices of Wernham Hogg, where David Brent (Ricky Gervais) gets redemption while Tim and Dawn (Martin Freeman and Lucy Davis) finally hook up. A perfectly wrapped closer.
M*A*S*H, ”Death Takes a Holiday”
This poignant episode finds B.J. (Mike Farrell) and the docs determined to keep a patient alive past Dec. 25 to salvage his family’s future memories of Christmas. A classic half hour that still fills tear ducts nearly 40 years later.
Burning Questions with… the Yule Log
Since 1966, watching TV on Christmas in New York (and a handful of other cities) has meant a crackling fire soundtracked with festive tunes. What’s the story behind this televisual hearth? EW went looking for the one who speaks for the log — a Yule Lorax of sorts. Jessica Bellucci, director of communications for Tribune Broadcasting (the company that owns WPIX, the channel that created the Yule Log show), happily obliged. —Kat Ward
How did the Yule Log program come to be?
Fred Thrower was the head of WPIX, and he figured, There are so many New Yorkers who don’t have a fireplace to gather around at the holiday time, let’s bring them one. They shot the fireplace at [New York City mayoral residence] Gracie Mansion [in 1966]. They actually set a fire while doing it. An ember flew out. It burned a rug. They thought they were going to get thrown out.
And are we still watching the 1966 version?
The Yule Log that you see on the air today was shot in 1970 in California. Over the four years, the tape had degraded so much that we needed to reshoot, and the mayor’s office would not let us back.
Too many valuable rugs.
Someone did a countrywide search for a replica fireplace, something that looked close to Gracie Mansion. And that has been the log that’s been on the air ever since. It’s a 17-second clip that airs on a loop.
Is this set of Christmas songs the original music as well?
We’ve never changed the music, chosen by Thrower. We don’t mess with perfection!
So we shouldn’t expect any Mariah Carey, then.
No! No, no, no. It’s all music from the ’50s and ’60s, classics.
How has the Yule Log adapted to changing technology?
They haven’t changed the footage. In 2003 it was converted to HD so you can have a slightly brighter fire. In 2009 we made a downloadable version so you can take it with you.
The log’s embraced social media, too, right?
We have a Facebook and a Twitter. We figured, It’s the log! He can be a little snarky. [Sample tweet from @WPIXYuleLog: ”If Lebron James was smart he’d come to New York. I’d make sure he was on fire all the time.”]
Do you worry about the competition from all those replica Yule Logs?
Every year I hear about imitation logs. What we’ve found is, our log is an enduring classic and people always come back to it. It’s what people remember from their childhood, a tradition they pass on to their own children.
Bah, Humbug Books
Consider Scrooge your spirit animal? Here’s your reading List! —Stephan Lee
Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris
Sedaris’ now-famous account of his stint as a Macy’s Christmas elf (”Santaland Diaries”) anchors this irreverently festive compilation. Nothing says ”Happy holidays!” quite like an essay titled ”Dinah, the Christmas Whore.”
The Twelve Terrors of Christmas, John Updike, illustrated by Edward Gorey
Of course the Rabbit series author wasn’t going to pen a cheery holiday book. First published in The New Yorker, these quick takes send up terrible carols, Charlie Brown specials, and more.
A Christmas Blizzard, Garrison Keillor
Edgier than his Lake Wobegon tales, Keillor’s fable follows a modern-day Scrooge as he spends the holidays with his family of weirdos: a conspiracy nutjob, a New Agey faith healer, and a dying uncle who lugs his own liver and pancreas in a bag.
The North Pole Employee Handbook, James Napoli
Constructed as a found document, Napoli’s satire blows the whistle on Santa’s corrupt present-making and-distributing racket and the sweatshoplike conditions at his North Pole-based factory. Elves and reindeer, unite!