12 Unforgettable Animated Holiday Specials

12 Unforgettable Animated Holiday Specials

Snowfall has cast a gentle blanket on the street, people are walking around cozied up in thick scarves and hats, and though it’s cold outside, there’s a hint of joy in the air because the holidays are just around the corner.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus, there’s a spirit of community and giving that saturates the atmosphere during this time, and what better gift to share than your favorite animated holiday specials.

Here Are 12 Unforgettable Animated Holiday Specials:

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)


Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree sapling is a holiday icon. Chosen as an act of resistance against commercialism, it bends over from the weight of a single ornament and leaves poor Charlie Brown to his signature sad walk. But its fate is not yet complete. How full does your heart get when Linus wraps the darling sapling in his blanket? There’s no sweeter moment.

2. The Little Drummer Boy (1968)


Often lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas. In The Little Drummer Boy, stop-motion animators Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass (who have many specials on this list) look to get back to the roots of Christmas. The special tells the story of a young Jewish orphan named Aaron, whose only enjoyment comes from playing his drum all day. Gradually, Aaron learns empathy as his story interweaves with that of the Nativity.

3. Jack Frost (1979)


We all know about Santa and Frosty and the Grinch, but the Rankin-Bass team helped popularize another now iconic wintertime character with Jack Frost. In this special, the winter sprite Jack Frost falls in love with a mortal, and transforms himself into a human. Jack faces a series of challenges in his quest to court his human crush in this unique tale that is a contrast to your typical Christmas-themed TV specials.

4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)


This classic TV special is perhaps the seminal work of the Rankin-Bass team. Telling the now iconic tale of a lonely, unique little reindeer, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has been pleasing children and adults for ages. Click here to see how many characters from the special you can remember.

5. BoJack Horseman Christmas Special (2014)


Back in 2014, Netflix introduced the world to BoJack Horseman, a washed-up former sitcom star who just happens to be a horse. Those that know BoJack might be wondering what magic this cynical steed could possible bring to Christmastime. In the special, BoJack is disillusioned by the holiday season, but in typical ‘90s TV fashion, he starts to come around in the end.

6. It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! (2012)


It turns out, they do celebrate Christmas in pineapples under the sea. Inspired by the stop-motion specials of Rankin-Bass, It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! is all you would expect from the colorful characters of Bikini Bottom. Visually appealing, witty, and all-around fun, this musical special follows SpongeBob as he tries to thwart a plot by Plankton and spread goodwill to everyone in town.

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)


Talk about your holiday classics. The deep, sinister track “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch” still leaves a bitter, nauseating feeling in one’s stomach, but it’s probably the only Christmas song you don’t get sick of. Illumination rebooted this iconic special with their 3D-animated The Grinch, but we’re certain it’s not going to beat the original. None of the remakes ever do.

8. A Rugrats’ Chanukah (1996)


Any kid from the 1990s remembers Nickelodeon’s immensely popular Rugrats. In this holiday special, the classic cartoon offers a surprisingly informative look into the origins of Hanukkah. Packed full of imagination and humor, and featuring all your favorite Rugrats characters, A Rugrats’ Chanukah is a holiday must for the whole family, regardless of what you celebrate during winter.

9. Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)


Based on the hit song of the same name, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town tells the origin story Santa Claus and many other Christmas traditions. One of the more popular Rankin-Bass specials, the film featured voice work from notable actors such as Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney. The story also introduces us to some new wintertime characters, like the evil villian Burgermeister Meisterburger.

10. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)


Before swimming in his money bin full of gold coins, Scrooge McDuck played his eponymous Ebenezer Scrooge in Disney’s rendition of the 1843 Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. As Scrooge transforms from greedy miser to benevolent hero in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, so does his general character in future TV appearances. Now that’s a change of heart.

11. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)


It’s hard to imagine Christmas without Santa, but Rankin and Bass did just that with their 1974 hit, The Year Without a Santa Claus. The special follows two elves named Jingle and Jangle as they travel south from the North Pole, helping restore faith in Christmas everywhere they go. Known today for introducing us to Heat Miser and Snow Miser, this holiday classic features one of the catchier songs from Rankin-Bass.  

12. Frosty the Snowman (1969)


Rankin and Bass were so well-known for their stop-motion animation, that we sometimes forget they teamed up to give us one of the most iconic two-dimensional animated holiday specials of all time. Frosty the Snowman tells the tale of a magical silk hat that brings a snowman to life. The snowman becomes friends with all the children in town. Will the kids be able to get Frosty to the North Pole before he melts? This holiday classic can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.


How many have these animated holiday specials have you seen? Are there any good ones we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Looking for some Holiday-themed quizzes? How about trying your luck with this trivia quiz, called Christmas On-Screen.

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