Christmas is a time for friends and family, joy and laughter, wonderful Christmas classics… and terrible holiday specials. December sees almost every TV show, cartoon and many franchises putting out Christmas-themed episodes and TV movies, and the vast majority of them just don’t stack up quite as well as presents do under your tree.
Whether they have a bizarre premise, are overly corny, or are even just plain boring, we rounded up the 12 Worst Holiday Specials of All Time. One for you to watch on every day of Christmas! (Or put on to drive out lingering holiday party guests, maybe.)
12. A Very Murray Christmas (2015)
This Netflix special is described as a holiday comedy, but feels more like a celebrity Christmas album in movie form. Murray stars as himself, trying to pull off a live Christmas special during the worst storm of the year. With no celebrity guests (bar an unwilling Chris Rock), it seems like the special will be a flop, but the magic of Christmas swoops in… to create a power outage and save him from embarrassment. It’s a strange, if slightly refreshing twist, and Murray brings together the various other people stranded in the hotel bar to sing Christmas songs and be merry.
It’s an interesting spin on a very classic TV Christmas special, but sadly, this Sophia Coppola pseudo-film falls flat. There are a few scattered jokes and poignant moments, but the majority of the time between songs just feels like filler. Despite a roster of incredible talent, this just doesn’t feel like a comedy movie. Still a great choice to have on in the background at a party, but not one to sit down and really watch.
11. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, “Seasons Greedings” (1994)
While much of the Lois and Clark series was popular, this Superman Christmas episode was definitely not one of the better moments for the show. This story features the Jeffersons as the villains, a disgruntled former toymaker who decides to create toys that make children greedy (should that be greedier?) and adults act like children. Obviously, Superman (Dean Cain) saves the day, figuring out who is behind it all and teaching the bad toymaker and his secretary about the true meaning of Christmas.
As a saccharine side-plot, Lois (Teri Hatcher) invites everyone over for a lovely Christmas dinner, but apparently her friends and family are all jerks who cancel at the last minute, leaving her sad and alone. Luckily, Clark has decided to cancel his own Christmas plans to be with her. Definitely an episode to skip when re-watching the series!
10. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer (2000)
Based on the black comedy Christmas carol of the same name, this holiday special somehow misses the point of the song entirely and turns Santa back into a good guy. He still runs over Grandma, mind you, and actually ends up abducting her for an entire year because he doesn’t know who she is (the crash gave her amnesia). Accepting the unlikely scenario that Grandma Spankenheimer was carrying no ID, and that a magical being who watches every child in the world couldn’t figure it out, we learn that Santa is a good guy who just wants to bring her home.
The bad guy in this version is Mr. Bucks, a rich businessman (geddit?) who wants to buy Grandma’s store, aided and abetted by a greedy family cousin. A complex kidnapping plot evolves and Santa is charged with, wait for it, sleighicular negligence. Overall, the special is about as eye-rollingly bad as that pun.
9. A Special Sesame Street Christmas (1978)
Not to be confused with the far superior Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, this holiday special is a cobbled-together collection of stories and celebrities, with so few of the muppet characters that it barely feels like Sesame Street! It’s dull, oftentimes just kind of strange, and lacks any of the magic we usually associate with every kid’s favorite street.
Oscar stars as Scrooge (obviously), whilst various other characters attempt to get him in the Christmas spirit, largely by having celebrities sing at him. Despite the star-studded cast list, nothing could make this (very) loose adaptation of A Christmas Carol particularly watchable.
8. Casper’s First Christmas (1979)
This oddball Christmas Special decides to combine two popular cartoons of the ‘70s; Caspar and the Angels, and Yogi’s Gang (because Christmas specials are not bound by logic). In this TV movie, Casper the friendly ghost and his not-so-friendly uncle Hairy Scary are looking for a new place to live, because their shack is going to get torn down on Christmas Eve! Oh no! Luckily, Yogi and the gang are lost, and stumble upon the house.
They decide to decorate the house and celebrate Christmas there for no good reason, leading Casper to befriend them and Hairy to try and scare them away. There’s some Benny-Hill-esque running around the house for a while, and then Santa appears and fixes everything. The house is turned into a “Haunting Lodge” and therefore saved, and they all celebrate Christmas together. More unnecessary and bizarre than anything, it’s definitely one of the failed cartoon Christmas specials.
7. He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special (1985)
Anything with Skeletor acting as the Grinch can’t be all bad, if only for comedy value. However, this is definitely one for nostalgic hilarity, rather than some serious warm-and-fuzzy Christmas viewing. The animated TV special finds two kids magically transported back to Eternia after telling a crashed Orko all about the holiday. Clearly, rather than being terrified, they are only too happy to spread the joy of Christmas to He-Man and She-Ra, who decide to throw a Christmas party.
Skeletor believes that the Christmas Spirit is a serious threat to his plans, and hijinks ensue. Unsurprisingly, Skeletor is foiled, the children are saved, and everyone has a merry Christmas. As though it wasn’t cheesy enough, the special ends with a Christmas message delivered with a sledgehammer: Christmas is about caring, sharing and goodwill. Unless you are Orko, who just cares about the presents.
6. A Very Brady Christmas (1988)
The Brady Bunch are all grown up, and back together for what has to be one of the most depressing Christmas specials ever. Rather than the cheerful hijinks of the original series, this Christmas finds every family member dealing with a major personal issue; job loss, cheating spouses, dropping out of college, lack of confidence, problems for the whole family. As if that’s not bad enough, just when things are starting to look up, dad Mike gets trapped in a collapsing building, causing the family to fear for his life. Everything ends relatively well, with some rousing carols to save Dad and reunite Alice with her cheating husband (although some may argue that that’s the furthest thing from a happy ending).
This special was clearly attempting to pull a Wonderful Life on us, with all this misery and fear, but it fails to pull off the big turnaround finale adequately. Instead, it becomes a strange and depressing revisit of the Brady Bunch, with some caroling at the end. Even worse, it actually did well (for some reason) and this sparked the spin off series The Bradys, which was so appalling that it was canceled after only six episodes.
5. A Chipmunk Christmas (1981)
If simply shoving manufactured Christmas Spirit down your throat isn’t annoying enough, A Chipmunk Christmas ups the stakes with those painfully squeaky little cartoon voices delivering the message. The message, of course, is that Christmas is all about giving… but also that harmonicas are both magical, and something that vast numbers of people want to listen to a chipmunk play.
Alvin, Simon and Theodore squeak through a “wacky” adventure as Alvin gives his harmonica to a sick little boy named Tommy (don’t worry, it magically cures Tommy, so he’s ok), despite being booked to play Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve! The chipmunks try and raise money for a new one, but Dave assumes that they are just greedy, and don’t know what Christmas is all about. It all works out in the end though, as Mrs. Claus just so happens to drop in with a new harmonica, Dave figures it out, and Tommy (as mentioned) is magically cured in time to head to Carnegie Hall for a rendition of Deck the Halls so high-pitched it will make your ears bleed.
4. Nestor the Long Eared Donkey (1977)
A stop-motion animated Christmas special clearly desperate to duplicate the success of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Nestor fails to recapture the magic of its inspiration, or provide us with anything new. Our title donkey has extremely long ears, causing the other barn animals to make fun of him (and presumably not let him join in any barn animal games). After being abandoned into a blizzard (which whips up in the desert, despite the fact that it’s a desert), Nestor meets an angel, then ends up guiding Mary and Joseph in a sandstorm, so that Jesus can be born.
The overtly religious story in Nestor means that it is really only appropriate for devout Christian families – while other holiday specials may have Christian undertones, this is Jesus all the way. It’s also painfully earnest as we learn that the donkey’s difference is what makes him special – a messages that had already been done to death by ’77, when Nestor came out.
3. TMNT: We Wish You A Turtle Christmas (1994)
This live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles special is full of gift-giving spirit, but with no real conflict, it’s as bland as can be. The turtles, being teenagers, forget to give their master Splinter a gift until the last minute. They head to the surface to pick something up, finally deciding on a plastic pizza.
To alleviate the general boredom, the Turtles do some tree decorating in Times Square, sing songs, and even rap. About wrapping. Everyone is happy, gift giving is achieved, and no one questions why Splinter invited a fairly random assortment of children into the sewers to sing the Twelve Days of Christmas. Add bad costumes to the thin plot and awkward rap, and that’s this Christmas special in a nutshell (or should that be… a Turtle shell?).
2. Christmas Comes To Pac-Land (1982)
Nothing says “Christmas” like a Christmas special based on a TV Show based on an arcade video game! Cleary the capitalistic irony isn’t lost on the creators, who decided to stay away from any message that would put family and togetherness over the true meaning of the holiday – buying as much Pac-Man related merchandise as possible!
Instead, Santa crash lands in Pac-Land, and Pac-Man and his friends have to help Santa get back on the road (the sky?) to deliver those all-important presents. The ghost monsters obviously make an appearance, there’s lots of snow, presents are mentioned over and over, and we get to see Pac-Man in a winter scarf and hat.
1. The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
This travesty of a Christmas special was made after the release of the first film (A New Hope), and manages to feel like neither Christmas nor Star Wars! Instead, it resembles nothing so much as a bad Wookiee sitcom guest-starring the cast of the iconic film franchise.
The special is very specifically not a “Christmas” special, either. Instead, the wookiees are celebrating “Life Day,” a winter holiday involving gifts and an enormous tree that acts as a meeting place rather than a decoration. Chewie’s family are waiting for him to come home, but those darn Imperial troops just keep getting in the way. There are a lot of ridiculous elements in this, including the kid-Wookiee watching a cartoon about the Star Wars characters fighting Darth Vadar, and the fact that most of the film is spoken in Wookiee (sans subtitles). Sadly, the silliness can’t overcome how painfully dull the special is, and it’s only really worth watching if you are a die-hard fan with far too much time on your hands.
Can you think of any other groan-worthy Christmas specials? Let us know in the comments!