Essential Christmas: The 10 Best Holiday Specials and Movies

In a day when parents and children rarely watch the same TV shows, Christmas TV specials and holiday movies still somehow manage to continue to bring families together.

These days it's even easier than it used to be to share these traditions. ABC Family has made an art out of holiday programming with their "25 Days of Christmas" programming blocs that package specials throughout the month of December. Home video and streaming services also allow families to watch programs whenever they want.

In the spirit of Christmas, I'm offering to you this list of the ten most essential specials and movies of the season.

We'll start with a pair of very different types of animation from a production company synonymous with Christmas specials...

10. The Year Without a Santa Claus

Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass are synonymous with their stop-motion Christmas specials of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Viewers not familiar with their names will recognize their unmistakable round-headed characters, candy-colored landscapes, and softly falling snow. A few of their specials are on this list, starting with The Year Without a Santa Claus.

In this 1974 special, Mrs. Claus (voiced by Shirley Booth) tells the story of the year Santa (voiced by Mickey Rooney) decides -- on doctor's orders -- to take a vacation. Two of his elves and the young reindeer Vixen take a trip to find enough Christmas spirit to cheer Santa up. Along their way, the elves battle the Heat Miser and Snow Miser and visit Southtown, USA, where they get lost. Santa journeys south to find Vixen and discovers that the children of the world need him. He can't skip Christmas.

The Year Without a Santa Claus is a clever story with some memorable scenes and catchy songs, including those involving the villains.

It’s not as ubiquitous as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, but The Year Without a Santa Claus is trippy holiday fun.

9. Frosty the Snowman

Another Christmas special that has stood the test of time is Frosty the Snowman. Originally aired in 1969, Frosty vaguely follows the story line of the popular Christmas song. The special tells how the kids who built Frosty help him escape to the North Pole while trying to elude the magician whose hat brought him to life.

The special is a Rankin/Bass production but it’s a traditional cartoon, not the company's signature stop-motion. Rankin and Bass hired a Japanese company to animate the show and it has a decidedly different look from most animation of the period. Jimmy Durante provides the narration and performs the title song.

Looking back the animation in Frosty is poor and the special as a whole is a bit cheesy but it's still nostalgic Christmas fun.

Next up is a movie about one boy's quest for a special Christmas gift. Don't poke your eye out!