People sometimes ask what my favorite Christmas special is. This always gets me in trouble.
One learns that folks look to Christmas shows with an eye for nostalgia. Like ancient tree ornaments constructed in pre-school and tugged out of the attic once a year, there is an emotional attachment that defies reason.
One year I shared that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Rankin-Bass “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” were not my cup of eggnog. I’ve always found Charlie Brown’s story to be vaguely depressing, and the misfit toys creeped me out as a kid (and still do). I was a sensitive child.
But I heard from readers that I was wrong, if not criminally naughty. I can tell you with authority that both classics are eagerly anticipated by the vast majority of the critical public, and it does no good to argue. If you share my taste, I would counsel you to keep it to yourself.
This season brings a deep covering of new Hallmark Channel holiday specials apparently engineered to the segment of the female audience that likes to weep a little before things get magically tied up in the end.
In the modern mill of holiday shows, cartoon characters with a national franchise tend to get drafted for specials. This year, Fox brings us a new one from the cinema stars of “How to Train Your Dragon” (“Dreamworks Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury,” 8 p.m. Dec. 17), in which all the dragons mysteriously book it for the holiday, and their human pals go looking for the answer. Pooh, Shrek, SpongeBob and the “Ice Age” gang all make annual appearances this time of year in tales of Yule spirit.
My favorite? Mr. Grinch.
No, not the weird Jim Carrey theatrical version that bombed for good reason, but the old reliable “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (8 p.m. Tuesday, ABC) released by Chuck Jones in 1965. It is sublimely narrated by the master of horror (to earlier generations, anyway; I doubt he could raise a goose pimple in the modern video-game crowd) Boris Karloff.
Dr. Seuss’ tale is a delight for the ear and eye. It best describes the swelling of the spirit that the holiday is known to inspire. Grinch does his worst, then gets his comeuppance. And delightful it is when he gets to cut the roast beast.
THE ANNUAL RUN of holiday shows began last Thursday with Charlie Brown (“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”) and will end with him celebrating a new year (“Happy New Year, Charlie Brown”). In between is a steady stream – some might say an onslaught – of shows pegged for every age and emotional outlook. Let’s get started:
“Love at the Christmas Table” (7 p.m., Lifetime): Christmas tradition brings a couple together after many years.
“Hitched for the Holidays” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel): Boyfriend/girlfriend learn to celebrate Christmas/Hanukkah in a new Hallmark original. With Joey Lawrence, Emily Hampshire and Marilu Henner.
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (8 p.m., ABC): Classic animated Seuss tale narrated by Boris Karloff.
“Shrek the Halls” (8:30 p.m., ABC): The grumpy ogre’s friends try to get him in the holiday mood.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (8 p.m., ABC): Peanuts classic about Charlie Brown and the Christmas pageant. With a seven-minute cartoon featuring elves Prep & Landing in “Operation Secret Santa,” with Betty White voicing Mrs. Claus.
“Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas” (7 a.m., ABC Family Channel): Kelsey Grammer narrates Christmas stories, including “The Gift of the Magi,” with Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
“A Dennis the Menace Christmas” (10:30 a.m., ABC Family Channel): Ghosts of Christmas help Dennis restore the spirit in Mr. Wilson.
“Holiday Kitchen Takeover” (11:30 a.m., Food Network): Chef Giada de Laurentiis and interior designer Sabrina Soto surprise a family with a makeover of their dated kitchen.
“Miracle on 34th Street” (12:30 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Macy’s Santa appears to be the real thing back when the Earth was black and white.
“Jack Frost” (6 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Michael Keaton stars as the bad dad who dies and comes back to life as a snowman.
“Elf” (8 p.m., ABC Family Channel): An elf goes to New York to pursue his birth father.
“A Bride for Christmas” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel): A bet leads to a holiday wedding. With Arielle Kebbel, Andrew Walker and Sage Brocklebank.
“The Christmas Heart” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel): Neighbors help a boy needing a heart transplant. With Teri Polo, Tess Harper and Paul Essiembre.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (8 p.m., ABC Family Channel): The Griswolds overdo it for the holidays.
“Abominable Christmas” (5:30 p.m., Cartoon Network): Two Abominable Snowkids are chased out of the mountains and have to spend the holiday with the most fearsome animals of all: Humans.
“Scooby-Doo: Haunted Holidays” (6:30 p.m., Cartoon Network): Ruh-row! The Scooby gang and a sinister snowman.
“Winnie the Pooh & Christmas Too” (6 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Pooh and Piglet rush to get Christopher Robin’s letter to Santa.
“A Christmas Carol” (7:30 p.m., Cartoon Network): The Looney Tunes crowd performs its own version of the classic story.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (8 p.m., CBS): Burl Ives narrates the tale of Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys.
“The Dog Who Saved Christmas” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel): Zeus, a retired police dog who has lost his bark, is adopted by a family that is the target of burglars.
“Fred Claus” (10 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Dysfunction in the Claus family.
“Home Alone” (7 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Left home alone, a boy tackles burglars.
“Polar Express” (9 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Tom Hanks narrates the Chris Van Allsburg book.
“Disney’s Christmas Carol” (8 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Uncle Scrooge plays Ebenezer.
“The Santa Clause” (7 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Tim Allen stars as a divorced dad who becomes Santa.
“The Borrowers” (8 p.m., ABC): Adaptation of Mary Norton’s children book about the world of tiny Borrowers who live under the floorboards.
“Come Dance With Me” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel): Dancing lessons lead to romantic complications at the holidays. With Andrew McCarthy, Stephanie Mills and Michelle Nolden.
“The Flight Before Christmas” (9 p.m., CBS): Niko the aspiring reindeer saves Christmas from the wolf pack.
“Help For the Holidays” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel): A bored elf heads south on a family mission. With Summer Glau, Eva La Rue, Izabela Vidovic, Mason Cook, Dan Gauthier and John Brotherton.
“Christmas at St. Olaf” (8 p.m., PBS): Holiday carols.
“Disney Prep & Landing” (8 p.m., ABC): Workplace jealousy infects an elite elf unit.
“The Mistle-Tones” (8 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Rival singing groups face off.
“Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” (8:30 p.m., ABC): A naughty kid hacks Santa’s computer system.
“Christmas with Holly” (9 p.m., ABC): Based on Lisa Kleypas’ novel “Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor,” this Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation tells the story of strangers in a small town finding spirit through one another.
“Hollywood Christmas Parade” (6 p.m., Hallmark Channel): Annual parade in Hollywood.
“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (8 p.m., ABC): A family gets a makeover in an episode taped last December.
“The Year Without a Santa Claus” (8 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Mrs. Claus must save the day.
“Michael Buble: Home for the Holidays” (10 p.m., NBC): Michael Buble hosts Rod Stewart, Blake Shelton, Elmo and Carly Rae Jepsen.
“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” (8 p.m., ABC): Classic 1970 Rankin-Bass cartoon narrated by Fred Astaire tells the story of Kris Kringle (voiced by Mickey Rooney) and the Burgermeister.
“Elf on the Shelf: An Elf’s Story” (9:30 p.m., CBS): Scout elf Chippey tries to teach a boy the magic of Christmas.
“Little Drummer Boy” (8 a.m., ABC Family Channel): A boy too poor to buy a present for baby Jesus plays a special song instead.
“Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey” (9 a.m., ABC Family Channel): Nestor carries Mary to Bethlehem.
“Pinocchio’s Christmas” (9:30 a.m., ABC Family Channel): A boy puppet is conned out of money for Geppetto’s gift.
“Baby’s First Christmas” (8 p.m., Hallmark Channel): Rival lawyers must mend fences for a family.
“Dreamworks Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury” (8 p.m., Fox): From the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise, a special about finding out why the dragons have suddenly flown off for the holiday.
“Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas” (8:30 p.m., Fox): Peaches wanders off, and Sid wrecks Santa’s factory.
“Secret Santa” (1 p.m., ABC Family Channel): Jennie Garth plays a reporter who must expose her town’s Secret Santa.
“I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown” (8 p.m., ABC): Linus’ brother ReRun wants a holiday dog.
“CMA Country Christmas” (9 p.m., ABC): Performers include Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Scotty McCreery, The Band Perry, Keith Urban and John Legend.
“A Beautiful Soul” (8 p.m., TV ONE): Gospel music star Deitrick Haddon plays an R&B superstar on a tragic spiritual journey at the holidays.
“A Chipmunk Christmas” 8:30 p.m., ABC): Alvin gives away his harmonica before a big concert.
“A Christmas Story” (midnight, Turner Classic Movies): Replays on the channel for most of the next 24 hours. Jean Shepherd’s enduring tale of Ralphie and the Red Ryder BB gun.
“Secret World of Arrietty” (8 p.m., ATARZ): Arrietty of the “Borrowers” is captured.
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (8:30 p.m., ABC): Live-action version of the classic story with Jim Carrey as the Grinch.
“Happy New Year, Charlie Brown” (8 p.m., ABC): Charlie Brown blunders into the new year.