It took a while to adjust to holiday specials airing in November. I remember having only one chance to catch these programs as a kid, and that made them a little more special.
As the flood of seasonal mirth begins, it's tricky to sift through all the different programs now available 24/7.
When choosing what to watch, avoid any sequels or live-action remakes. They simply don't work.
Also look for the four fundamental elements of any killer holiday special:
1) Unique characters
2) Memorable music
3) A lesson learned and
4) A Santa appearance.
Here are my top-five television holiday specials of all time.
This list does not include any feature films. Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life do not qualify for this list.
Honorable mention: Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970).
Major points for Fred Astaire, the Winter Warlock, Burgermeister MeisterBurger and "Put One Foot in Front of the Other," which almost made the list. Almost.
5) Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Happy birthday! Yes, it's full of sap, but this Rankin/Bass-animated special has all the right elements.
Unique characters: Frosty, of course, plus magician Professor Hinkle, his rabbit Hocus Pocus and sweet little Karen.
Memorable music: Jimmy Durante belts out "Frosty the Snowman" as the kids march through town. What more do you need?
Lesson learned: Frosty and Karen almost die on their way to the North Pole. Professor Hinkle gets his dream present.
Santa appearance: Kris Kringle shows up at the end to save Karen, Frosty and Hinkle, and everyone gets a sleigh ride home.
4) The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)
Another Rankin/Bass classic has elves Jingle and Jangle traveling to the real world to find people who still believe in Santa.
Unique characters: Mrs. Claus plays a pivotal role, but elves Jingle and Jangle stumble upon two of the most memorable holiday characters - Heat Miser and Cold Miser. Their mom, Mother Nature, steps in to settle things.
Memorable music: The title track pales in comparison to the "Mister 101" and "Mister 10 Below" production numbers, and don't forget "Blue Christmas," which gets Santa back in the swing of things.
Lesson learned: Even Santa himself needs a reminder that kids still care about Christmas.
Santa appearance: Mrs. C is our narrator, but Santa puts on regular clothes before changing his mind.
3) Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (1964)
The finest Rankin/Bass holiday production ever made. This is a hit on so many levels that it pains me to place it third on the list.
Unique characters: Where do I begin? Burl Ives as the snowman narrator. There's also Yukon Cornelius, the Bumble (Abominable Snowman), Hermie the wannabe dentist, Clarice, Fireball, and the elves and their sadistic foreman. And, of course, the legendary Island of Misfit Toys.
Memorable music: Masterfully mixed. Classics "Rudolph," "Silver and Gold," "Holly Jolly Christmas," plus "We Are Santa's Elves," "We're a Couple of Misfits" and "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year." This is the Saturday Night Fever of holiday soundtracks.
Lesson learned: "Rudolph, with your nose so bright.... " You know the rest.
Santa appearance: Santa shows his racist side when he sees that shiny nose during the reindeer games, but comes around by the end, when everyone is rescued and Rudolph leads the way.
2) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Arguable Dr. Seuss' finest work and a must-see for children of all ages. Forget the movie and the Broadway show; the book is legendary, and so is this special.
Unique characters: Boris Karloff gives the finest holiday performance of all, as both the narrator and the Grinch. There's also Max the dog/reindeer and all the Whos down in Whoville.
Memorable music: "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch." Plus there's the song the Whos sing around the Christmas tree.
Lesson learned: Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. Then the Grinch gains the strength of 10 Grinches (plus two) and ends up carving the Roast Beast.
Santa appearance: The Grinch makes his own costume and fools little Cindy Lou Who, who was no more than two.
1) A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Simply the best.
Unique characters: The Peanuts cast is unique in its own way. Snoopy is the star of this show, and Charlie Brown is his usual blockhead self.
Memorable music: The holiday soundtrack that tops all others - and it consists of jazz standards. Skating on the frozen pond, catching snowflakes on your tongue, and, of course, the dancing as Charlie Brown attempts to direct the Christmas play.
Lesson learned: You can fast-forward Linus' speech and skip to when Charlie Brown "kills" his tree. When the gang fixes up the tree and sings, then you realize what Christmas is all about.
Santa appearance: Not necessary, and besides, he'd only sound like a muted trumpet.
Be sure to catch any one of these over the next few weeks.