Five films (and TV specials) to watch this Holiday Season!

Christmas is edging closer by the day! The main event itself is now only a couple of weeks away, so we’re well and truly in the wintery grip of the Holiday Season. This time I thought it could be fun to take a look at five films and television specials that make for great festive viewing.

Although I’m not a religious person by any stretch, Christmas has always been an event I look forward to… beginning as early as September! Though not every Christmas was perfect when I was a kid, I have some pretty happy memories of this time of year, and there’s something about the juxtaposition of the cold, dark winter going on outside with the warmth and the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree inside that really makes this time of year feel special, almost magical!

Christmas is coming!

Between the lights, decorations, and festive pop hits, I think it’s fair to say I’m all about the secular, commercial side of Christmas; Santa Claus, not Jesus, stands out to me as the season’s main character! So that’s my mindset as we go into this list.

Please keep in mind, as always, that this list is wholly subjective. If you don’t like any of these Christmas films and television specials, that’s perfectly fine. I’m not trying to pretend that these are the “all-time best ever” Christmas specials, or anything of the sort!

With that caveat out of the way, let’s dive into the list!

Number 1:
The Polar Express (2004)

The titular Polar Express.

When it was released in 2004, The Polar Express received criticism for its “creepy” CGI – but I think it’s safe to say that its semi-realistic animated style has aged pretty well. Tom Hanks stars in this modern animated classic, and takes on several different voice roles across the film. Not providing names for main characters is a risk (not to mention something you’d get a failing grade for in most creative writing classes!) but that doesn’t actually hamper The Polar Express. The nameless protagonists are arguably more relatable as a result, allowing the audience to project themselves onto the characters with ease.

There may have been a couple of Christmases when I was very young where I did, in fact, believe in Santa Claus (or Father Christmas, as we call him here in the UK). But my parents didn’t do the whole “all of your gifts come from Santa” thing, and among my earliest Christmas memories I can remember writing thank-you notes to family members for the gifts they’d given me. These things vary from family to family, though, and while I wouldn’t like to speak outside of my own experience, I think a lot of you probably have some recollection of believing in Santa Claus and subsequently losing that belief. It’s a theme that many different Christmas films have tackled – but The Polar Express gets it right. The protagonist learns, over the course of his adventures, to keep believing – a metaphor, perhaps, for valuing one’s childhood and remaining youthful.

The nameless protagonists.

I’ve always liked trains, and The Polar Express shows us a beautiful CGI rendition of an old-fashioned steam locomotive. Trains – model trains in particular – have somewhat of an association with Christmas, but this method of transporting kids to the North Pole was certainly unique! It gives The Polar Express a sense of adventure that road trip films and other films about long journeys often capture so well, with scenes like running around on the train roof and the train skidding across the ice all playing into that.

The Polar Express is a film with heart, but it’s also something a little different from the typical “let’s go and meet Santa Claus” fare of many other shows and films aimed at children. There’s a sense of scale in the journey we see the protagonists undertake, and because it’s told from a child’s perspective, there’s still some of that mystery and wonder; the sense that the kids don’t really know how everything works on the train. That magic is part of what makes the holidays so special.

Number 2:
The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (2020)

Promo image for The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special.

I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline since last year, but for various reasons it got buried under too many other writing projects in the days before Christmas! Stay tuned, though, because I daresay I’ll get around to a full write-up eventually! For now, let’s hit the key points. The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is hilarious, and I found it to be a great palate-cleanser after The Rise of Skywalker had been such a disappointment.

Unlike this year’s Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales, which focused solely on Poe Dameron, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special brings back all of the main characters from the sequel trilogy – then takes a wild ride through all three of Star Wars’ main eras thanks to some well-timed space magic! Star Wars fans should appreciate many, many callbacks to past iterations of the franchise – not least the notorious Holiday Special, which was released in 1978 to critical derision!

Finn, Rey, Poe, Rose, and Chewbacca.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is full to the brim with gentle jokes and parodies that poke fun at the Star Wars franchise without ever coming across as mean-spirited or laughing at fans. Some humourless fans, or those who want to lose themselves in that world, might find that offputting, but I reckon that a majority will be able to enjoy The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special for what it is: non-canon fun.

I was pleased to see that Disney+ is intent on doing more with the Star Wars brand than just serious projects like The Mandalorian, and in some respects I think we can argue that The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special – and other Lego Star Wars titles too – fill a niche similar to Star Trek: Lower Decks over in another wonderful sci-fi franchise. No Star Trek holiday special yet, though… but maybe one day!

Number 3:
I Won’t Be Home For Christmas
The Simpsons Season 26 (2014)

The Simpsons’ house all decorated for the season.

The Simpsons has undeniably lost its edge in recent seasons, and it’s increasingly rare to pluck out a genuinely good episode from the ever-growing pile – something I found out when I put together a list of a few of my favourite episodes earlier this year. But every now and then The Simpsons can still produce an episode somewhat akin to those from its more successful past. I Won’t Be Home For Christmas is, in my view anyway, among them.

Perhaps it’s the holiday theme that elevates what might otherwise be a less-enjoyable episode, but I find that there’s something very relatable about I Won’t Be Home For Christmas. A few years ago, when I was suffering with undiagnosed mental health issues and in the midst of a divorce, I found myself wandering the dark, empty streets on Christmas Eve – trying to clear my head. The sequences in which Homer does something similar in this episode really hit home for me because I’ve been in a similar position myself.

I found this presentation of Homer to be very relatable.

When you’re watching what feels like the whole rest of the world closing their doors and enjoying the holidays without you, life can feel incredibly lonely. Homer meets a number of characters on his own journey, but that sense of loneliness and missing out on what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year is still a prevalent theme that runs through the entire story.

On a more positive note, I Won’t Be Home For Christmas features a couple of genuinely good jokes and laugh-out-loud moments. It also kicks off with a Christmas-themed reworking of the show’s famous opening sequence, so if you’re watching on Disney+ don’t hit the “skip intro” button! You’ll miss something fun if you do. In a lot of ways I feel echoes of Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire in I Won’t Be Home For Christmas – and not just because of its holiday setting. The episode feels like a throwback to earlier seasons, when The Simpsons as a whole was doing far better at producing stories like this one.

Number 4:
Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too (1991)

Is that Santa and his reindeer?

My younger sister received a VHS copy of Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too as a Christmas present (I would guess in 1992) and watched it endlessly! As a result, it’s probably one of the Christmas specials that I’ve seen most often – it was a mainstay in our house in the run-up to Christmas for several years in a row! What’s more, the original Winnie the Pooh books by A. A. Milne were permanent fixtures on my childhood bookshelf, and I’m sure those books were read to me when I was very small. So the entire Winnie the Pooh series is something I have a great fondness for!

Christmas is a time for nostalgic steps back like this, forgetting the modern world and all of its troubles for a while. Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too is an incredibly sweet Christmas tale set in the Hundred Acre Wood, perfect for a few minutes wrapped up in Christmas-themed cuteness and escapism. Or is that just the nostalgia talking?

Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, and Pooh.

Because Winnie the Pooh has always been pitched at very young children, the story here is rather basic. There’s a kerfuffle surrounding Christopher Robin’s letter to Santa, and Pooh tries to save the day. Despite those limitations, though, the story is incredibly cute, really sweet, and full to the brim with Christmas fun.

Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too isn’t something I go back to year upon year; doing so would probably ruin the magic. But every once in a while I treat myself to this blast of very personal ’90s nostalgia and enjoy my memories of Christmases past. As 2021 looks set to be the second Christmas in a row where we may not be able to do everything we’d want, I think finding moments like that might be very important for a lot of folks.

Number 5:
Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation (2009)

The special’s title card.

As a childless adult, Phineas and Ferb is a series that shouldn’t have had much appeal for me! But as I’ve said many times before, the best kids’ shows have something to offer adults as well, and when I sat down to watch Phineas and Ferb for the first time back when I had the Disney Channel, I found a truly engaging and fun little cartoon.

That extends to the Christmas special too, which is one of the high points of the entire series – in my subjective opinion, naturally! I’m a total sap for the “Christmas is in danger, someone needs to save it!” plot cliché, and Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation puts the series’ trademark spin on that familiar premise. It’s a lot of fun!

Perry and Dr Doofenshmirtz.

I never miss an opportunity to talk about Phineas and Ferb. The show finished its run in 2015, but last year returned for a one-off Disney+ original film, which was absolutely fantastic too. Unlike some of the other entries on this list, which I’ll happily rewatch on occasion, I return to Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation every year without fail – something I’ve done for a decade now!

Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation keeps the series’ trademark twin storylines – the boys and the other kids on one side, Perry the Platypus and Dr Doofenshmirtz on the other. Both stories come together in one connected narrative, but the show sticks to its two angles throughout – and what results is a story with moments of excitement, high drama, and emotion as the boys race to save Christmas.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo Switch (2020)

Promo for New Horizons’ Christmas event.

If you’re an Animal Crossing player, Christmas Eve is where it’s at! But throughout December it’s possible to buy special seasonal items, to see your island all decorated for the holidays, and to take note of what some of your island friends might want by way of gifts! The Christmas event is known as Toy Day in the world of Animal Crossing, and while it’s possible to ignore it and get on with your regular island life, it’s a bit of fun to play through these one-off events.

As December dawns on your island – at least if you’re playing on a Northern Hemisphere island – snow will start to fall. You’ll be able to build a snowman every day – and building the perfect one unlocks special ice-themed items. There are snowflakes to catch, which are used as DIY ingredients to craft new seasonal items too.

A wintery New Horizons island!

Later in December, Isabelle will announce that she’s decorated some of the island’s trees – but only the pine trees. When I played last year not every pine was decorated, but those that were looked adorable with their little festive lights! Shaking these trees also provided yet another crafting material which could be used to create holiday-themed items.

I’ve been critical of New Horizons for its longevity in particular, but there are few games that offer this style of gameplay. Last year I played through the Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year events on my island, and I have to say I had a lot of fun with all of them. The Toy Day event on Christmas Eve (not Christmas Day!) is the kind of sweet Christmassy fun you’d expect from a game in the Animal Crossing series, and if you missed it last year it’s well worth playing through at least once.

So that’s it!

It’ll be the big day before we know it!

I’ve got a few more holiday-themed ideas for the website between now and Christmas – which is getting closer and closer by the day. I hope you like the festive banner and the little Santa hat on the website’s logo, too! I had fun messing around and putting those together.

There are lots of great festive films and holiday specials that I didn’t include on this list, so have a browse through the television listings or your streaming platform of choice. I’ll probably be checking out a mix of old favourites and new entries – there are always plenty of new holiday films every year. I’ve heard good things about 8-Bit Christmas this year, for example! I hope this list has been a bit of festive fun as we continue to get into a holiday groove!

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, broadcaster, streaming platform, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

My favourite adaptation of A Christmas Carol

The earliest filmed version of Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol was in 1901. Since then there have been at least sixty-five filmed adaptations – not including the many times where productions borrowed one or more themes or elements from the story. Some adaptations are good, some were even great, but for the last two decades there has been – in my opinion – one that stands out from the others.

Because A Christmas Carol has been adapted so many times, newer versions have a tendency to try to bring new creative elements to the story, or to have some gimmick that will make it feel different from all the others. The 1999 adaptation doesn’t do this, to its credit, and generally plays it straight. Though there is much to love in the likes of A Flintstones Christmas Carol or Scrooged, when I’m in the mood for a faithful adaptation of Dickens’ book, I reach for this version.

Sir Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Sir Patrick Stewart, who takes on the role of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, had previously adapted A Christmas Carol to be a one-man play which he starred in on the stage beginning in 1988. Though I’ve never been fortunate enough to see this version, in it Sir Patrick takes on most of the roles in the book; over thirty characters. During the play’s run, Sir Patrick began working with director David Jones, who was a versatile director of stage and screen. They adapted the novel into a made-for-television film and it was broadcast on American cable network TNT in the run-up to Christmas 1999.

This adaptation of A Christmas Carol is the first to make use of CGI and digital special effects. Though some of these have aged – the production is over twenty years old at this point – most hold up remarkably well even compared to higher-budget films and television shows of the era. The 1990s was an interesting time for special effects. CGI meant that many productions were able to make use of effects that would have been prohibitively expensive to do physically, yet even at the time many could be underwhelming. The Star Wars prequels suffered greatly from an overuse of CGI that wasn’t quite ready for prime-time, but in this adaptation of A Christmas Carol, the effects are kept to a minimum and aren’t intrusive.

As a big Star Trek fan, the main draw of this adaptation was, of course, the presence of Sir Patrick Stewart. I don’t believe it was broadcast here in the UK before the millennium, but I certainly would have seen it for the first time in the early 2000s. After being initially interested simply because of who was in it, what I found when I sat down to watch A Christmas Carol was a largely-faithful adaptation of Dickens’ novel, one that retained all of the heart and sweetness at the core of this story of Christmas and redemption. Sir Patrick’s performance is outstanding, but it’s hardly the only great work of acting. Richard E. Grant co-stars as Scrooge’s hard-done-by employee Bob Cratchit, and there were great performances from lesser-known actors taking on the roles of the three spirits, the Cratchit family, and the people Scrooge encounters in his visions.

Scrooge walks the streets of London.

As an historical piece, A Christmas Carol nails the Victorian feel. It even succeeds at showing different periods of the 19th Century – when Scrooge is taken back to his past, the setting and costumes change to reflect the passage of time. Though things like set design and costuming can be subtle, if something isn’t right – especially in a film set in a distinct time period – it can really be offputting. This is one aspect that the film gets spot on.

Making Dickensian language understandable to contemporary audiences can be a challenge. Not quite so much as with Shakespeare or Chaucer, but many 19th Century texts can sound odd to our ears today. Though I’d argue 19th Century writing is often beautiful, when adapted for the screen in particular it can sound ostentatious and stilted. This adaptation of A Christmas Carol manages to avoid that – for the most part – and the dialogue works well, especially when you get stuck into it!

As humans we have an innate fear of death, and it’s from this fear that the first legends of ghosts and hauntings were created. The idea of spirits unable to leave this world nor enter the afterlife is frightening; a fate worse than death, you could say. And A Christmas Carol doesn’t shy away from the frightening side of the spirits who visit Scrooge. I’d even go so far as to say that there are several jump-scares in this adaptation. A great soundtrack accompanies these moments in particular, escalating the tension. It may not be the best version to watch if you have very young children.

Ghosts shown to Scrooge.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol at a time when folks in Britain were rediscovering many Christmas traditions that had fallen by the wayside. Though it’s not fair to credit the novel with saving or inventing Christmas, many of the traditions we associate with the holiday today are included in the novel – and in this adaptation.

So that’s it, really. I just wanted to highlight this great and underappreciated adaptation of Dickens’ novel as we’re now in the grip of the holiday season! It made my list last year of twelve things to watch during the festive season, but I wanted to expand a little on what I said and give A Christmas Carol its own moment in the spotlight!

As a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Sir Patrick Stewart, I was incredibly excited when I first heard of this adaptation. I wasn’t disappointed when I saw it for the first time around twenty years ago, and it’s become a permanent fixture on my holiday watchlist. I wouldn’t say I watch it without fail every Christmas season, but certainly most years I’ll fire up the DVD and spend an hour-and-a-half with this festive favourite. I highly recommend it, both to Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike.

A Christmas Carol (1999) is out now on DVD and may be streamed on Amazon Prime in the United Kingdom. Access to the film on streaming platforms may vary by location. A Christmas Carol may be the copyright of TNT and/or Sonar Entertainment, Inc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A festive list to get you in the holiday spirit!

Spoiler Warning: There are some minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

Tis the season to be jolly… and all that. There are some fun Christmas films and television specials, and with it being only four days till the big day, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites. I’m sure most will be familiar to you, but they’re all worth a watch at this time of year.

With all of the controversy around projects like Star Wars, it’s nice to kick back with an old favourite at this time of year. Some of the titles below are full-on guilty pleasures, the kind of film you’d never watch if it wasn’t Christmas-themed. But there’s nothing wrong with that every once in a while.

These titles are in no particular order, but it’s a list so I had to number them.

Number 1: Carols From King’s (Annual)

Title card for Carols From King’s.

I’m by no means a religious person. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I set foot in a church. But when I was at school, every Christmas just before the end of term we all trooped down to the local church and attended a Christmas carol service. My English teacher would pick on a few of us every year to read aloud some kind of Christmassy poem or short section from a story, so every year while at school I got to take part. The only benefit was that we got to miss a few lessons in the run-up to the event, but that alone made it worthwhile.

Carols From Kings is basically the kind of Christmas carol service I remember from my schooldays – just much better quality(!) There’s a choir, and they sing a selection of Christmas carols interspersed with a few readings and churchy things. While the selection of carols varies somewhat year on year, most of the traditional English carols make an appearance, such as Once In Royal David’s City, or The First Nowell.

As a fan of Christmas music in general, Carols From Kings is a pleasant, calm television programme of the sort that I’d never be interested in at any other time of year. At the end of the day, all it really is is a church choir singing Christmas carols – but that’s okay. Of course if you just wanted to hear the music you could find 1,001 versions of all of these carols on any music streaming platform, but seeing it and knowing it was recorded live does make it a different experience, and focuses attention on the music and the event itself rather than letting the songs be background noise for whatever else you might be doing.

There are new editions of Carols From King’s recorded every year (or most years, at least). Several past years, including 2018, are available on YouTube at time of writing, and I believe the 2019 edition is to be broadcast on Christmas Eve here in the UK.

Number 2: The Polar Express (2004)

Poster for The Polar Express.

This film was a novel take on the “does Santa Claus exist?” theme that a lot of Christmas titles explore. Following a young boy who finds it hard to believe in Santa, The Polar Express takes the unnamed child on a whirlwind adventure to the North Pole, complete with snow, ice, and a weird train roof-riding hobo.

Notable at the time of its release for its CGI animation – which some critics called “creepy” due to its attempts at realism – the film has aged well and has rightly become a modern-day Christmas classic, one which is fun to return to year upon year. I’d especially recommend it for families – though with the caveat that very young children may find a few scenes frightening.

Tom Hanks is on form here, voicing several characters and giving each a unique sound. You might recognise him in the persona of the train’s conductor, such is the nature of semi-realistic CGI animation, but some great voice acting ensures his other characters are unrecognisable.

Trains – especially toy steam engines – have somewhat of an association with Christmas, so The Polar Express doesn’t come from nowhere. However, its unique approach to Christmas, Santa Claus, and the North Pole, as well as some comical moments, make for a fun modern Christmas film with heart. The message is that Santa is real, and for little ones wavering on that issue it might be a reassurance. And though it’s primarily a fun adventure for kids, there’s some entertainment for grown-ups to have here as well.

Number 3: Father Christmas (1991)

The VHS and/or DVD box art for Father Christmas.

A semi-sequel to 1982’s The Snowman, Father Christmas sets out to answer a simple question: what does Santa do for the other 364 days of the year? Apparently the answer is that he takes a massive round-the-world holiday. And gets drunk.

As a kid, the scene where Father Christmas (as Santa is known in the UK) gets completely trashed and starts hallucinating/dreaming and throwing up was a really weird thing to witness. And that sequence may be why this animated short doesn’t seem to be readily available at the moment. It is, of course, online on various streaming sites – none of which I’d happily recommend, so take your own chances – but it is on DVD at least here in the UK.

Clocking in at only 25 minutes, it’s a bit steep to pay a lot of money for a copy, but it is a fun, wholly British, and entirely tongue-in-cheek look at Santa’s everyday life. For some reason he lives in a terraced house in the UK. And has a pet dog and cat. And his neighbours seem blissfully unaware of his true identity.

The animation style is, frankly, outdated. It’s very much a product of its time, with a particular hand-drawn style that may not be to everyone’s taste. And as mentioned, a few scenes may be offputting for sensitive young ones. But there is a bloomin’ great song (which you can almost certainly find on YouTube).

Number 4: The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Could it be? A Star Wars film worse than The Phantom Menace?

I’m kidding – no one should watch this nonsense.

Thankfully non-canonical, the Star Wars Holiday Special takes classic characters from the original film and sets up the premise of Life Day – a celebration on Chewbacca’s home planet.

It has been rightly ridiculed for its bad script, bad effects, and for being an all-round failure.

It is, however, a wholly unique piece of television. Sometimes bad films make for entertaining viewing simply because of how bad they are, and if you have a few Star Wars-loving friends (and a healthy amount of alcohol or other substances) maybe this could be a fun romp for you.

And since this came out before Empire Strikes Back is is technically the first Star Wars sequel.

Still, it’s better than The Phantom Menace.

Real Number 4: Miracle on 34th Street (1947; 1994)

Box art for the 1947 original Miracle on 34th Street.

I actually had a hard time deciding which version of this Christmas classic to put on this list. The 1994 version is a rare example of a successful remake – thanks largely to the wonderful performance of the late Richard Attenborough.

I’m not a huge fan of black-and-white films in general. Not so much the lack of colour itself, but primarily because older films tend to be very dated in their effects, sets, and especially their acting style. I know that’s a horribly subjective statement, but as a very general rule I’d say most films (and TV series) prior to the mid-1960s don’t really work for me. The original Miracle on 34th Street was an exception, however. I actually saw the remake first, probably not long after it was released, and for years I wasn’t even aware there was an older version. When I did encounter it, I was initially put off by the black-and-white and the year it came out, but when I gave it a chance I found the same heartwarming tale underneath.

When a Thanksgiving parade needs a replacement Santa Claus, a man named Kris Kringle steps up – and claims to be the real deal. After being briefly institutionalised, a court case find that (for differing reasons in the two versions) they cannot prove he isn’t Santa – so therefore he can go free.

Actor Edmund Gwenn won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his role as Kris Kringle in the original film, and though his performance is in many ways iconic, Richard Attenborough took over the role for the 1994 version and also gave an incredible performance.

Number 5: Love Actually (2003)

Poster for Love Actually.

So here’s a conundrum – is Love Actually a Christmas film, or is it a romantic comedy with a Christmas background? I can’t decide.

Some films seem to pick a Christmas setting and hope it will cover all manner of sins. Not so for Love Actually, because while Christmas serves as a backdrop for the film and the various sets of characters, it’s actually (pun intended) rather good.

Taking multiple plot threads and a huge cast of characters, the completely different stories slowly work their way together over the course of the film. And there are some wonderful performances in there, as well as some funny ones. Hugh Grant’s take on the British Prime Minister came mere months after then-PM Tony Blair took Britain controversially into the Iraq War. And the scene in which Grant’s character stands up to a rude, pushy American President (a pitch-perfect performance from Billy-Bob Thornton) was, in a very real sense, something that large sections of the country were looking for and responded to.

Alan Rickman also gives one of his best performances here, and his on-screen chemistry with Emma Thompson is part of what gives the film its heart.

I didn’t expect Love Actually to become as culturally significant as it is when I first saw it. I dismissed it as “just another rom com”, having seen Hugh Grant in what felt like several dozen similar pictures by that point. But, helped by its Christmas setting no doubt, Love Actually is another modern classic which I think families will enjoy at this time of year for a long time to come.

Number 6: A Christmas Carol (1999)

The 1999 version of A Christmas Carol stars Patrick Stewart.

There are many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ famous novel – the book credited with bringing Christmas back into the popular imagination after a period in which it wasn’t widely celebrated. And many of those versions are good. Some are funny, some are animated, and some take great liberties with the source material. But if I had to pick just one adaptation, the 1999 made-for-TV version is my choice.

Starring Sir Patrick Stewart (hot off his role as Capt. Picard in Star Trek: Insurrection) this version of the story sticks fairly closely to the original novel. There’s nothing especially ground-breaking here, nothing that will change the way future adaptations are viewed. But as a pure adaptation of the novel, I don’t think the performances can be bettered.

Some of the effects, especially those for the ghosts, may look a little dated by now, but overall the film does a great job telling the classic story of bitter old miser Ebenezer Scrooge as he learns to embrace the spirit of Christmas. I’m a big fan of Sir Patrick (as you probably know by now if you’re a regular around here) but his performance here is a great example of why. He carries this film all the way, appearing in practically every scene, and if you can get over the fact that he’s not Jean-Luc Picard and simply enjoy the story being presented, you’re in for a treat because his performance is incredible.

Some actors are inexorably linked to their most iconic roles, and if you’re a huge Star Trek fan perhaps this version will be jarring for you. But stick with it if you can, because in my opinion this is the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

Number 7: Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation (2009)

Streaming icon for Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation.

You might remember from the list of my top television series of the decade, but I’m a big fan of this Disney Channel animated series.

Christmas Vacation is actually one of the best episodes as well, a feature-length episode in which the evil Dr Doofenshmirtz builds a machine to make everyone in town naughty – thus cancelling Christmas. The boys manage to save the day, of course, and there’s plenty of mayhem and fun along the way.

The soundtrack to this special episode is great, too, featuring a couple of Christmas classics and a few original songs – including a Christmas-themed version of the show’s opening song.

If you’re a sucker for the “Christmas is in danger, then someone saves it” plot cliché – and I absolutely am – then this will be a fun time. Yes it’s a kids’ show, but Phineas and Ferb has always been a series that holds some appeal to adults too, so it’s not without merit here. It’s by no means an original premise, but it is a uniquely Phineas and Ferb take on that premise, and as a fan of the series it’s great to come back to this special at this time of year.

The soundtrack album (which also includes a few tracks from a couple of other holiday episodes) is also well worth a listen. Yes, I bought it.

Number 8: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

DVD box art for Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Every family has different Christmas traditions, and these traditions vary an awful lot from country to country. It wasn’t until I spent a Christmas in the United States that I became aware of this charming stop-motion film, and I think from people I’ve spoken to that it doesn’t have as big of a following over here.

Despite first encountering Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer as an adult, I had a fun time with this film and enjoyed a look at another country’s idea of a Christmas classic. And a classic it certainly is – it was on TV dozens of times in the run-up to Christmas when I lived in the States, and almost everyone I spoke to reacted with incredulity when I said I’d never seen it.

It’s a re-telling of the Rudolph story with a few original characters that haven’t appeared elsewhere, like Yukon Cornelius, and Hermey the elf who wants to be a dentist. After facing rejection, the characters run away together, only to be welcomed back after their adventures in a heartwarming tale of… bullies that decide to stop bullying? I guess.

Number 9: Delia’s Classic Christmas (2009)

Delia’s Classic Christmas DVD box art.

I wanted to put at least one cookery programme on this list, because of all the various holidays and events throughout the year, none are so intrinsically linked to food as Christmas.

Delia Smith is the original British television cook, appearing on TV since at least the 1980s. Her 2009 outing – Delia’s Classic Christmas – is exactly what it sounds like. British Christmas classic dishes, presented in her trademark gentle style.

As a collection of classics, don’t expect much outside the mainstream of British cuisine. That’s actually what I like about this television special, because in many ways, Christmas is the one time of year where traditions dominate and it’s great to celebrate that. In this case, we’re talking about food traditions like roast turkey with all the trimmings. For my American readers, Turkey has been traditional Christmas fare in the UK for at least the last century. Though some families will still opt for ham or beef as their main meat of choice, turkey is still the king. And because we don’t have Thanksgiving, this is for most people their main turkey dinner of the season – possibly of the whole year.

But to get back to Delia’s Classic Christmas for a moment, Delia Smith’s style of presenting is just pleasant and enjoyable to watch. This is pure light entertainment at its festive best, and even if cookery shows wouldn’t normally be your thing, maybe you can make an exception at this time of year. It does wonders to get me excited for my Christmas dinner, anyway!

Number 10: Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis on the poster for Die Hard.

I debated whether or not to put Die Hard on this list. Is it a Christmas film? Or is it an action film with a couple of Christmas references? That argument will rage on and on, I fear.

Christmas film or not though, Die Hard is a classic of the action genre. While its sequels haven’t really lived up to the original, that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment here. Bruce Willis is on form as action hero John McClane – trapped in a building under siege and where terrorists have taken hostages (including his wife), McClane slowly cuts his way through the terrorist troupe.

Alan Rickman features on this list for the second time, in his iconic role as terrorist leader Hans Gruber. Though protagonist and antagonist only meet at the film’s climax, their radio communication earlier in the story is fantastic and the way Willis and Rickman portray their characters’ hatred for one another in this limited format is really something to witness.

Die Hard could’ve ended up like so many other action films of its day – a fun but mediocre gun-fest. But there’s something about the two leads, perhaps aided by the Christmas backdrop, that elevates the title to something better.

Number 11: Jingle All The Way (1996)

Poster or DVD box art for Jingle All The Way.

In the entry above for the Star Wars Holiday Special, I mentioned that sometimes a bad film can be entertaining. And make no mistake, Jingle All The Way is, by practically every conceivable measure, a bad film.

It’s on this list purely as a guilty pleasure, and were it not for its Christmas theme it would probably be long-forgotten. In Jingle All The Way, Arnold Schwarzenegger (future Governor of California) has to get his son a must-have Christmas toy… but they’re all sold out. What follows is a slapstick comedy in which Arnie fights with another kid’s dad to find the last one on Christmas Eve.

It really is as bad as it sounds – Arnie’s acting has always been wooden at best, and this is certainly not his best performance by a long way. The premise is dumb, and the comedy is really quite stupid in parts, but what’s hiding just below the surface is a story worth telling – one of a family man recognising his flaws and trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his son. Christmas is both the setting and the driving force for the main story, but the idea of a family coming back together from the brink of falling apart is a timeless one in many ways, and one that epitomises Christmas.

Number 12: Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (1989)

Several main characters from The Simpsons.

Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire is actually the first ever episode of the long-running animated sitcom. And it is a classic in its own right, as Homer tries to turn his financial troubles into a successful family Christmas.

Much of what makes The Simpsons great is on display here. At the end of the day, the series has been so successful and lasted so long because it has heart. There are plenty of funny moments, but despite his failings, it’s easy to root for Homer. He’s a likeable protagonist in this episode.

Arguably this isn’t The Simpsons at its best, because the show probably took at least to the end of the first season to really hit its stride, but despite that, and despite the fact that many of what would become the show’s principal supporting cast aren’t present, it’s a solid episode.

And as a Christmas story, it’s oddly timeless. The down-on-his-luck dad, trying to hide his finances from his family and then having to get into deeper and deeper trouble to cover it up, all while trying to provide them with Christmas gifts is, in an unfortunate way, still as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. While life has changed in many ways since The Simpsons premiered, there are still too many people who don’t have enough money at this time of year – or indeed all through the year. That sense of a real-world situation comes through, despite the fact that we’re looking at a cartoon, and I think that’s what makes it so relatable.

Honourable Mentions:

I couldn’t possibly cover every Christmas film or television special on this list. There are far too many, and there are some real classics that I’ve probably forgotten all about. Here are a few more that could’ve made this list, and are definitely worth a look.

Santa Claws (2014) – Not to be confused with the 1996 horror film of the same name, this family adventure sees a litter of kittens save the day and deliver Santa’s presents – after he has an allergic reaction to them.
The Snowman (1982) – The predecessor to the 1991 film Father Christmas listed above, this animated short sees a boy and his magical snowman go on an adventure.
Home Alone (1990) – A holiday classic. When a young boy is left behind by his family, he has to cope on his own while fending off burglars who want to rob his mansion.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – After losing his firm’s money, a desperate man contemplates taking his own life and wishes he was never born. His guardian angel shows him the effect his life has had on others.
The Flight Before Christmas (2008) – A reindeer who’s afraid of flying saves the day in this cute animated film.
Elf (2003) – A human raised by Santa’s elves at the North Pole travels back to the human world in this lighthearted comedy.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Is it a Halloween film or a Christmas film? Either way, this stop-motion film directed by Tim Burton has become a classic.
The Morecambe and Wise Show Christmas Specials (1968-83) – For well over a decade in the late 1960s, ’70s, and into the ’80s, these variety shows by a comedy duo were the most-watched thing on British television on Christmas Day.
The Nativity Story (2006) – Future Star Wars actor Oscar Isaac features as Jesus’ father Joseph in this re-telling of the Biblical story.

So that’s it.

A few Christmas specials and films to get us all in the holiday mood now that we’re on the home stretch. Only four days left and then it’ll all be over for another year!

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studios, networks, and/or distributors. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.