Where to stream the best Christmas specials

It's Christmastime. You need something to entertain your entire family. You don't have time to run to the store, and Amazon Prime delivery can't help you now. Streaming is the only option, but when you search Netflix and Amazon for "Christmas," you are buried by an avalanche of junky rom-coms and kids movies starring anthropomorphic dogs.

Don't panic. We've curated your holiday entertainment with enough Christmas specials to last you till Boxing Day.

Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire

Free with cable subscription

The first episode of The Simpsons barely resembles the show as it stands today. Both grimier and more heartfelt, the Christmas special depicts the Simpsons as a family on the lower fringe of the middle class, trying to make it through the stressful season without bludgeoning one another. The plot hinges on the adoption of Santa’s Little Helper, but the episode also — very quickly — explains how the family adopted Snowball II.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

$12.99 in HD, $9.99 in SD to own on iTunes

The one and only.


A Muppet Family Christmas

Free on YouTube

The Muppet Christmas Carol has established itself as the Muppets holiday special of the people. It’s certainly better than A Muppets Christmas: A Letter to Santa, the 2008 dumpster fire that AMC has reignited to keep its coffers warm this winter. But if you’re a lover of Jim Henson’s larger oeuvre — and somehow you haven’t heard of it already — I recommend A Muppet Family Christmas, which includes guest appearances by the casts of Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock. While most of the special takes place within the home of Fozzy Bear’s mother, it has an unexpected scale, including a number featuring over two dozen muppets at once.

A Very Murray Christmas

Free on Netflix

I have a theory, and it’s totally baseless. I believe that many of our favorite holiday specials become favorites not simply off quality, but attrition. Appearing year after year, we can’t help but love them thanks to their reliability and familiarity. A Very Murray Christmas has its flaws — the dull first act; how Sophia Coppola’s vision of New York loneliness is wealthy heirs of Hollywood elite having to wait out a blizzard in a ritzy hotel utterly void of commoners — but after living it on repeat, I’ve really come to enjoy it. The songs are sweet, the jokes are soft, and Jason Schwartzman Jason Schwartzman Jason Schwartzman Jason Schwartzman Jason Schwartzman Jason Schwartzman Jason Schwartzman. Jason Schwartzman.


Prep & Landing

$2.99 in HD, $1.99 in SD to own on iTunes

Prep & Landing is the Disney holiday tradition that never quite came to be. The series follows two elves in the division that prepares for the millions of landings of Santa’s sleigh on Christmas night. The first entry appeared in 2009, and the second in 2011, both capturing the awkward mix of ambition, inanity, and pride of being a working adult. Writing that, I can see how it didn’t quite catch on. The clips are difficult to find, in terms of streaming, so while I’m including this link to iTunes, your best bet may be to stop by Best Buy on the commute back from your office.

Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas

Free on Amazon Prime

Another comparably forgotten Jim Henson Christmas Special, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas is about a family of otters competing in a talent show, hoping to win enough money to but their loved ones Christmas gifts. If you want to sound like an expert, complain about the absence of Kermit the Frog, who supposedly appeared in the original TV presentation, but was later removed for legal reasons.


Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas

$7.99 to own on iTunes

You’ll be hard pressed to find the stop motion classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, but at least the Grinch is available for your streamings — even though that means using the iTunes Store.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

$7.99 to own on iTunes

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol used to be a clearance bin Christmas DVD, but a recent restoration gives the lovable special some overdue love and attention. Yes, it’s another retelling of Dickens’ classic, but Magoo’s slapstick schtick is a welcome antidote and lack of popularity makes this special a fresh and welcome respite from your loved, but established favorites, which like recitals of The Nutcracker starring your nieces and nephews, becomes unbearable at after the umpteenth viewing.

Animaniacs' Christmas episodes

$1.99 for each episode to own on Amazon

Animaniacs’ Christmas episodes are, like the rest of Animaniacs, a surreal series of childish cartoon cliches, references lost on anyone under the age of 50, and astute satire of Hollywood. Also, it’s funny.

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