12 Days of Christmas TV

Find out what to watch during the last 12 days leading up to Christmas.

Whether you’re celebrating a religious Christmas, putting your menorah away after another celebration of the miracle of light, welcoming the solstice and the turn toward longer days, or simply commemorating the year that has passed, the “holiday spirit” is worth taking a moment to appreciate. This is a time of year for reflection and renewal, sharing traditions and making new ones.

What better way to appreciate the season than to spend the evenings of the next two weeks with family (biological or chosen), gathered around the TV, watching Christmas specials? Here’s your guide to the 12 days of Christmas TV.

Monday, Dec. 14:

On the first day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

A whole streaming site dedicated to the holidays. At Hulu for the Holidays, you’ll find Christmas specials from your favorite sitcoms and dramas, from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Ally McBeal, and from to Desperate Housewives to Modern Family. “Doctor Who Christmas specials” and “Christmas Specials from the U.K.” have their own categories. Under the “The Holidays Just Got Real” section are 11 reality TV Christmas specials, including a Christmas pageant episode of Toddlers & Tiaras. Though Hulu is known more for its TV than for its movie selection, there sure are some gems in the “Festive Films” section, like Christmas in Hollywood, in which a boy from Shanghai must convince three people to believe in the spirit of Christmas to save his father’s Chinese restaurant. Also included is The Christmas Toy, a 1986 Jim Henson film about a toy who wants to be wrapped and put under the Christmas tree for a second year.

By far the best part of the Hulu for the Holidays page is the selection of Christmas cartoons — fun for adults and kids alike: Hey Arnold, The Wild Thornberrys, Adventure Time, Madeline, Care Bears and Ren & Stimpy, plus my Christmas classics like Yes, Virginia and The Snowman.

Tuesday, Dec. 15:

On the second day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

More classics. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, a claymation Christmas classic, will air on ABC Family Tuesday at 5 p.m. After that, switch over to AMC for Bill Murray in Scrooged from 6-8 p.m. Then you’ll have 15 minutes to refill the popcorn — and maybe put the kids to bed — before Elf on ABC Family at 8:15 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 16:

On the third day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

More Bill Murray. This year, perhaps in competition with Hulu to be the top purveyor of streaming merriment, Netflix presents an hour-long holiday special, much like the musical Christmas television specials of yore anchored by Judy Garland, and Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

The story follows Bill Murray, playing himself as a variety host with a chip on his shoulder, worried that a bad storm in New York City will prevent his fans from attending his big holiday show. It’s feels largely improvised and unrehearsed, like the live shows it models itself after. The pacing is odd, but Murray barrels through the hour, hopping from cameo to cameo. The mostly bad singing is more than cringeworthy, and the reflexive self awareness that is only occasionally chuckleworthy. It’s easy to write off in the first half, but as it absurdity grows, it becomes increasingly harder to break away. Stick around through Phoenix’s lovely barroom rendition of “Alone on Christmas Day” (about half way) and you’re golden. It’s bizarre and uneven, but great to have on in the background while you wrap presents or bake four dozen cookies for the office holiday party.

Thursday, Dec. 17:

On the fourth day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

Music and miracles. If you’re in the mood for a pop music extravaganza, the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2015 will air on the CW at 8 p.m., with performances from The Weeknd, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Zedd, Fetty Wap, Tove Lo and others. Don’t recognize or care about any of those names? Tune in to AMC instead, for the 1994 film Miracle on 34th Street, with Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson.

Friday, Dec. 18:

On the fifth day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

Choose your own A Christmas Carol adventure. Get in the groove at 8 p.m. with the original Frosty the Snowman on CBS. Then pick your favorite Scrooge and settle in for a crotchety evening. You can watching the 1938 A Christmas Carol with Reginald Owen on Netflix. Or, opt for George C. Scott in the 1984 cult classic A Christmas Carol on AMC at 9:15 p.m. Patrick Stewart puts on the top hat at both 8 p.m. and again at 10 p.m., for the 1999 version.

Saturday, Dec. 19:

On the sixth day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

History. It looks like we may finally get some snow this Saturday, so it may be perfect for a night in. First, recall How The Grinch Stole Christmas on TNT at 6:30 p.m. Then navigate to the History Channel by 8 p.m. for four hours of Christmas Through the Decades, a look back at Christmas traditions from the 1960s through the 1990s — one decade per hour, so feel free to pick and choose.

Sunday, Dec. 20:

On the seventh day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

Muppets. The Muppet Christmas Carol airs on WGN at 9 p.m. It’s one of the few times it’s on this year, so don’t miss it. Also, if you missed The Grinch on Saturday, you can catch him again on TNT at 3 p.m.

Monday, Dec. 21:

On the eighth day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

Claymation classics and SNL. Disney will air two classic claymation specials back-to-back, with The Year Without A Santa Claus at 8 p.m. followed by Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. After you hang with the earnest folks in the claymation universe, tune to NBC for A Saturday Night Live Christmas (2014) for some healthy irreverence.

Tuesday, Dec. 22:

On the ninth day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. The Empire stars hosted an hour long special of their own, Taraji and Terrence’s White Hot Holidays. It originally aired Dec. 9, but you can catch it on Dec. 22 on Fox at 9 p.m., or anytime on Hulu. If you’re not an Empire fan, tune in instead to ABC’s annual year in review, The Year: 2015.

Wednesday, Dec. 23:

On the tenth day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

Mickey, Bing, Frank and Lucy. Start your night with — oh boy! — Micky’s Christmas Carol on ABC at 7 p.m. Then at 8 p.m. you’ll have to choose between two legendary entertainers: The crooning duo Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank: Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra sing holiday songs (TCM), or Lucille Ball in the I Love Lucy Christmas Special (CBS).

Thursday, Dec. 24:

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

Jimmy Stewart and Charlie Brown. USA will air the classic tale of suicide and the Christmas spirit, It’s A Wonderful Life, at 8 p.m. I can’t go a holiday season without watching this movie, and I can’t hear a bell ring without thinking … well, you know. Alternately, you can celebrate the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas on ABC. It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown!, hosted by Kristen Bell at 8 p.m., will celebrate the special’s half-century legacy. The original will follow at 9 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 25:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my TV gave to me…

The perfect background. While you’re opening presents, getting ready for church, having breakfast, or going about a normal Friday, you can revisit Hulu for the Holidays for one of several “Holiday Scenics” to set the mood: a fireplace, lights, a village, or winter scenes, all with Christmas music in the background. Then at 1 p.m., PBS will air Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir followed by Christmas at Belmont, Belmont University’s annual musical special. Enjoy the music, enjoy the day, and have a happy holiday — whatever that means to you!

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