It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas as TV networks and streaming services roll out a colorfully wrapped array of holiday specials from now until the end of the year.
There’s a festive mix of new (a Dolly Parton special) and traditional (You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch) arriving for the holiday season, which may feature more at-home viewing than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides Dolly, TV’s holiday firmament features bright stars such as Mariah Carey, Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Matthew Morrison.
Before diving into a sleighful of Christmas specials, fan-favorite cartoons and holiday-themed series episodes, let’s note a couple of upcoming Turkey Day specials: NBC’s “A Saturday Night Live Thanksgiving Special” (Wednesday, 9 EST/PST), featuring Thanksgiving-themed sketches from the comedy show’s 46 seasons, and “The 94th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” (Thursday, 9 a.m. EST/PST), which NBC touts as “a reimagined celebration” for these pandemic times.
Apple TV+ subscribers can watch “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” and others can watch it for free Nov. 25-27. There’s also a broadcast TV airing on PBS Nov. 22 (7:30 EST/PST, check local listings).
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But Thanksgiving is only an appetizer when it comes to holiday programming. Here’s the menu of upcoming treats:
Brand new gifts
‘Tis the season for huge brand names, and Disney+ makes sure the seasonal Force is with you with “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” (now streaming).
Traditionalists will relish the return of the legendary 1966 cartoon, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (NBC, Nov. 27, 8 EST/PST; TBS, Dec. 6, 7 EST/PST; also streaming on Amazon), but those curious to see an update can catch NBC’s “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical!” (Dec. 9, 8 EST/PST) from the Troubadour Theatre in London, with Matthew Morrison (“Glee”) as the tiny-hearted title character.
Fruitcake isn’t the only place to find dates during the holidays as HBO Max introduces “12 Dates of Christmas” (streaming Nov. 26), an eight-episode series that features “three hopefully romantic singles (searching for) someone to bring home for the holidays.” Sounds like “Love Actually” as a reality competition.
Singing stars take center stage to help viewers celebrate the holidays.
Country music star Thomas Rhett and his wife, author Lauren Akins, make their TV hosting debut on the 11th annual edition of ABC’s “CMA Country Christmas” (Nov. 30, 9 EST/PST).
PBS celebrates the holiday with different musical styles. The 17th annual “Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir,” featuring actors Kelli O’Hara and Richard Thomas, premieres Dec. 14 (9 EST/PST, check local listings), with “Ella Wishes you a Swingin’ Christmas with Vanessa Williams,” a celebration of classic holiday tunes from Ella Fitzgerald, arriving Dec. 15 (8 EST/PST, check local listings).
In HBO Max’s “My Gift: A Christmas Special From Carrie Underwood” (streaming Dec. 3), the Grammy-winning singer combines traditional holiday favorites with original material from her first full-length Christmas album, “My Gift,” which was released this fall. John Legend joins Underwood for a duet.
Apple TV+ unwraps “Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special” on Dec. 4. The music superstar, long associated with the holiday, will be joined by Tiffany Haddish, Billy Eichner, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Snoop Dogg and Misty Copeland.
If that’s not enough superstar power, Dolly Parton has a new CBS special, “A Holly Dolly Christmas” (Dec. 6, 8:30 EST/8 PST). And Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood return to CBS for a new one-hour concert special, “Garth & Trisha Live! A Holiday Concert Event” Dec. 20 (8:30 EST/8 PST delayed). Fans also can stream both on CBS All Access.
Classics in waiting
These returning shows are trying to cement a permanent place in the holiday TV pantheon.
Two movie-franchise spinoffs, “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” and “Toy Story That Time Forgot,” appear back to back on ABC on Thanksgiving (8 EST/PST). That’s followed by the fifth edition of “The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration” on ABC (9 EST/PST).
ABS also offers a third edition of “The Disney Holiday Singalong” (Nov. 29, 8 EST/PST). “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” ABC’s popular decorating competition, returns for its eighth season on Dec. 9 (8 EST/PST).
As part of its annual “Nickmas” rollout of more than 100 hours of seasonal content, Nickelodeon presents classics including “Rugrats Chanukah” ( Dec. 10 and 17, 10 EST/PST).
Classic stocking stuffers
Remember all those wonderful gifts from bygone days? Well, even if you received a lump of coal, you’ll always have these hardy seasonal perennials.
Start the festivities after Thanksgiving with a couple of cold ones – the non-alcoholic kind – as CBS offers “Frosty the Snowman” and “Frosty Returns,” back-to-back on Nov. 27 (8 EST/PST).
ABC offers another animated gem, 1970’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” on Nov. 27 (8 EST/PST), too.
And perhaps the most famous animated Christmas tale of all, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” makes its perennial appearance Dec. 1 on CBS (8 EST/PST). The main competition for that honor, 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” is available to Apple TV+ subscribers starting Dec. 4, with free viewing Dec. 11 to 13, along with a PBS broadcast Dec. 13 (7:30 EST/PST, check local listings).
The Christmas tree gets its own night to shine on NBC’s “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” (Dec. 2, 8 EST/PST), the 88th edition of the famed New York tree-lighting ceremony. If that’s not a big enough bite of the Big Apple, stay tuned afterward for another holiday tradition, NBC’s “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” (10 EST/PST).
Viewers can revisit the bygone days of young Ralphie Parker and his dream of a Red Ryder air rifle when “A Christmas Story” arrives on TBS Dec. 4 (8 EST/PST) and Dec. 5 (6 EST/PST). If you miss the leg lamp or Flick getting his tongue stuck to the frozen pole, don’t worry. The annual 24-hour marathon returns Dec. 24 on TBS (8 EST/PST) and TNT (9 EST/PST).
Need more holiday classics? Get your annual Edelweiss fix when ABC broadcasts the incomparable Julie Andrews in 1965’s “The Sound of Music” (Dec. 20, 7 EST/PST)
Finally, NBC continues a Christmas Eve tradition with a Jimmy Stewart film that’s synonymous with the holiday, “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Dec. 24, 8 EST/PST).