Four Decades of Holiday Viewing

Ever since television became a focal point of our living rooms in the early 1960s, we’ve gathered in front of the smaller silver screen on Christmas Eve, often with family members. Here’s what we’ve been watching since 1962.

Christmas Eve, 1962

  • The Bing Crosby Show: Mary Martin joins Bing in a special holiday celebration.

  • Black Nativity: A children’s special featuring, in the words of a newspaper listing of the day, an “all-Negro cast.”

  • It’s a Wonderful Life: Countless broadcasts of Frank Capra’s film—about a good man who learns the value of his time on earth—give viewers a dose of holiday spirit.

Christmas Eve, 1963

  • The Red Skelton Hour: Red spends a special hour in celebration, complete with carols, comedy, and ballet. In a pantomime sketch, a hobo finds a ragged toy doll that magically comes to life.

  • Petticoat Junction: The plans for Christmas festivities in Hooterville are in trouble—until a railroad magnate pays a visit to the local folks.

  • Telephone Hour: Hostess Jane Wyatt welcomes Bill Baird’s Marionettes to her Christmas show.

Christmas Eve, 1964

  • Hazel: Hazel tries to find a way to keep George from acting like Scrooge.

  • The Burke Family Singers: The Burkes pay a visit to Baroness Maria von Trapp for a special Christmas Eve celebration.

  • Dr. Kildare: Rip Torn guest stars as a patient whose generosity on Christmas Eve brings unexpected results.

Christmas Eve, 1965

  • The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Brothers celebrate their first network Christmas broadcast.

  • Gomer Pyle: Gomer and Sergeant Carter learn a lesson about the spirit of the season.

  • Sing Along with Mitch Miller: Mitch hosts a festive family reunion.

Christmas Eve, 1966

  • Bing Crosby’s Hollywood Palace Christmas Special: Bing’s special guests include Kate Smith, Cyd Charisse, and Bob Newhart.

  • The Lawrence Welk Show: Welk’s Christmas show is a homey affair, with performances of classic Christmas songs by members of his family.

  • Heart of Christmas: The program features seasonal music from host/conductor Skitch Henderson and harpist Robert Maxwell.

Christmas Eve, 1967

  • The Ed Sullivan Show Ed celebrates the holiday season with his guests Arthur Godfrey, Bobbie Gentry, and the Cowsills.

  • The GI’s Christmas Eve Special American servicemen send messages to their loved ones and show how the season is being observed in Vietnam.

  • And on Earth, Peace An hour of Christmas music native to Central and Eastern Europe, hosted by Margaret Truman.

Christmas Eve, 1968

  • Julia: In the first American network television series to feature a nonwhite protagonist, star Diahann Carroll is joined by Marc Copage and Michael Link in an episode entitled “I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas.”

  • That’s Life: Robert Morse, Leslie Uggams, and the Doodletown Pipers share thoughts on “Our First Christmas.”

  • 60 Minutes: Harry Reasoner offers his essay “What Christ Looked Like.”

Christmas Eve, 1969

  • The Flying Nun: Sally Field stars in the Christmas episode “Winter Wonderland.”

  • Music Hall: Wayne Newton hosts a seasonal celebration with his guests Julie Budd and the Singing Angels.

  • Space Cantata: A musical special set to official NASA footage from the Apollo 8 mission.

Christmas Eve, 1970

  • The Flip Wilson Show: Flip and his guests Burl Ives and Sha-Na-Na present a holiday program of comedy and music.

  • Boughs of Holly: Host Pete Seeger shares some memorable Christmas songs.

  • Story Theater: Five fairy tales from the works of the Brothers Grimm, staged by the Yale Repertory Theater Company.

Christmas Eve, 1971

  • J.T.: Jane Wagner and Kevin Hooks star in this drama about a shy youngster whose closest friends are a cat and a transistor radio.

  • The Odd Couple: Tony Randall and Jack Klugman star in the Christmas episode “Scrooge Gets an Oscar.”

  • Beethoven’s Birthday: Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic celebrate the anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Christmas Eve, 1972

  • Christmas with the King Family: The Kings offer an evening of wholesome musical fun and seasonal celebration.

  • The Miracles of Christmas: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir offers traditional Christmas favorites.

  • The Wonderful World of Disney: The Christmas episode “A Present for Donald” is featured.

Christmas Eve, 1973

  • Gunsmoke: James Arness and Amanda Blake star in the episode “P.S., Murry Christmas.”

  • An American Christmas in Words and Music: Burt Lancaster hosts this celebration of the American Christmas, with guests James Earl Jones, Peter Yarrow, and Linda Lavin.

  • A Dream of Christmas: A southern minister has trouble adjusting to his new home in Los Angeles.

Christmas Eve, 1974

  • Holy Year Jubilee: Pope Paul VI celebrates Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

  • Christmas at Pops: Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra celebrate the season with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

  • The Joy of Christmas: The Westminster Ensemble joins the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for an evening of seasonal music.

Christmas Eve, 1975

  • Tony Orlando and Dawn: Carroll O’Connor and the International Children’s Choir are guests on the Christmas episode of the popular variety show.

  • A Bicentennial Christmas: The American Christmas tradition is reviewed in anticipation of the nation’s 200th birthday.

  • The Oral Roberts Christmas Special: Roberts offers inspirational messages for the season.

Christmas Eve, 1976

  • Donny and Marie: Guests Sonny and Cher, Edgar Bergen, and Paul Lynde help the duo celebrate the season.

  • The Homecoming: A Christmas Story: Patricia Neal stars as the mother of a rural American family in the 1930s.

  • The Sounds of Christmas: Doc Severinsen and his orchestra play holiday favorites.

Christmas Eve, 1977

  • The Jeffersons: In this holiday episode, George is sending gifts and cash to a mysterious address.

  • A Special Christmas with Mr. Rogers: The children’s television personality and his friends—including King Friday and Mr. McFeely—celebrate the season.

  • Christmas Around the World: Seasonal celebrations from several countries are broadcast live via satellite.

Christmas Eve, 1978

  • The Nutcracker: Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland star in Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet.

  • It Happened One Christmas: Cloris Leachman and Wayne Rogers play supporting roles in this remake of Frank Capra’s holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

  • Amahl and the Night Visitors: Teresa Stratas stars in a new rendition of Menotti’s holiday operetta.

Christmas Eve, 1979

  • A Christmas Special . . . With Love, Mac Davis: Mac is joined by Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Robert Urich, and the choir of St. Mary’s Church in Van Nuys, California.

  • Christmas Eve on Sesame Street: Big Bird and the rest of the gang get together for a celebration of the season.

  • Family: The holiday spirit takes a turn for the worse when Kate learns that Doug is keeping something from her.

Christmas Eve, 1980

  • The House without a Christmas Tree: A young girl’s desire for a Christmas tree meets with opposition from her no-nonsense father.

  • A Fat Albert Christmas: The Cosby kids help a family in distress.

  • Real People: The program profiles “the nation’s official Santa Claus.” Also: a woman who dresses up as a Christmas tree; and the story of Hanukkah as told by hand puppets.

Christmas Eve, 1981

  • High Hopes: The Capra Years: Lucille Ball, Carl Reiner, and Burt Reynolds review the career of the man who directed It’s a Wonderful Life and other classic films.

  • 20/20: Hugh Downs offers a profile on the Salvation Army.

  • The Man in the Santa Claus Suit: Fred Astaire stars in this film about a mysterious man who changes the lives of three people.

Christmas Eve, 1982

  • Pinocchio’s Christmas: This animated holiday special is based on the classic tale.

  • The Nativity: Princess Grace of Monaco hosts this recorded musical-drama production set in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

  • The Muppet Movie: Kermit and Miss Piggy star in a special holiday broadcast of the popular film.

Christmas Eve, 1983

  • Diff’rent Strokes: Arnold invites a street-corner Santa home to share the holiday.

  • Christmas with Luciano Pavarotti: The world-famous tenor sings Christmas classics.

  • The Love Boat: On Christmas Eve, Mickey Rooney makes an otherworldly visit to the ship’s passengers.

Christmas Eve, 1984

  • Sleeping Beauty: Christopher Reeve and Bernadette Peters star in a made-for-cable adaptation.

  • Cagney and Lacey: Chris, Mary Beth, and company search for a quick exit from work on Christmas Eve.

  • Scarecrow and Mrs. King: Amanda and Lee find themselves spending the night before Christmas with Soviet agents.

Christmas Eve, 1985

  • Sing-It-Yourself Messiah: Three thousand San Franciscans join the Conservatory of Music Orchestra at Louise Davies Symphony Hall.

  • The Black Stallion: Mickey Rooney stars in the network broadcast premiere of this popular family film.

  • Joyeux Noël: A Cajun Christmas: A celebration of the holiday season, New Orleans style.

Christmas Eve, 1986

  • The Night They Saved Christmas: Art Carney and Jaclyn Smith strive to keep the North Pole from being blown sky-high.

  • St. Elsewhere: A rented Santa suffers a coronary while entertaining at the hospital.

  • Robert Shaw’s Christmas Special: Shaw offers two hours of song and celebration.

Christmas Eve, 1987

  • Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales: The Warner Bros. gang blows off some holiday steam.

  • The Magic Flute: David Hockney presents a new rendition of Mozart’s classic.

  • Oprah!: Oprah reviews the year’s holiday entertainment offerings.

Christmas Eve, 1988

  • A Claymation Christmas Celebration: The California Raisins perform in a series of skits ranging from Dickensian London to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

  • Christmas Comes to Willow Creek: Citizens of a poverty-stricken Alaska town learn the true meaning of the season.

  • The Garfield Christmas Special: The world’s most popular cat stars in a half-hour animated special.

Christmas Eve, 1989

  • A Christmas Carol: George C. Scott delivers the definitive Scrooge of our time in this rebroadcast of the popular special.

  • A Muppet Family Christmas: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Big Bird, and the rest of the gang celebrate the holiday.

  • Bill Cosby Salutes Alvin Ailey: Roberta Flack, Anthony Quinn, and others join Bill in a salute to the world-famous choreographer.

Christmas Eve, 1990

  • A Very Retail Christmas: Ed O’Neill stars as a nasty toymaker.

  • The New Visions Christmas Special: VH-1, the music video channel, welcomes Dr. John for an evening of holiday song.

  • A Child’s Christmas in Wales: The Disney Channel presents a new version of Dylan Thomas’s classic.

Christmas Eve, 1991

  • The Little Match Girl: F. Murray Abraham narrates this animated adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, now set in New York City in 1999.

  • The Tailor of Gloucester: A musical adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s story about a mouse who helps a tailor on Christmas Eve.

  • Die Fledermaus: The Royal Opera presents this production of the Strauss opera about a maid who masquerades as a countess at a ball. Starring Marilyn Horne, Joan Sutherland, and Luciano Pavarotti.

Christmas Eve, 1992

  • The Night Before Christmas: Joel Grey narrates a half-hour animated musical version of Clement Moore’s poem.

  • Christmas in Vienna: An hour-long concert of seasonal favorites by José Carreras, Diana Ross, and Placido Domingo.

  • It’s a Wonderful Life: The much-beloved classic is still gracing the Christmas season.

Christmas Eve, 1993

  • Disney’s Christmas Fantasy on Ice: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, and the rest of the gang prove that—no matter what shape or size feet come in—there are skates for them all, as well as exciting routines choreographed to everybody’s favorite holiday music.

  • Scrooge: Albert Finney and Alec Guinness give three-star performances in this movie about Dickens’s beloved miser.

  • The Christmas Star: Edward Asner and René Auberjonois star in this film about a con man who escapes from prison in a Santa Claus suit and meets two children who believe in him.

Christmas Eve, 1994

  • National Football League Playoffs: The New England Patriots played the Chicago Bears in Chicago in the final game of the regular season, while the Kansas City Chiefs fought the Los Angeles Raiders in Los Angeles in their final game. (The Patriots won 13-3, and the Chiefs won 19-9.)

  • Christmas Carol: Alastair Sim stars in this highly regarded, often-replayed, black-and-white take on the Dickens classic.

  • Hallelujah: Dennis Haysbert and James Earl Jones star in this drama about members of a Washington, D.C., church who want their new minister to work miracles three days before Christmas.

Christmas Eve, 1995

  • Cincinnati Pops Orchestra: A gala Christmas Eve concert led by conductor Erich Kunzel, and featuring special guest Mel Tormé.

  • Seasons Greetings from the Honeymooners: Ralph is a street-corner Santa; Joe the Bartender, Reginald Van Gleason III, and the Poor Soul visit; the Kramdens meet Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.

  • The Honeymooner’s First Christmas: Ralph (Jackie Gleason) and Alice (Pert Kelton) share their first Christmas; other Gleason characters are featured in sketches.

Christmas Eve, 1996

  • Angel of Pennsylvania Avenue: This Hallmark TV movie starring Robert Urich, based on a true story, focused on three children who ask U.S. President Hoover to help free their innocent Dad from jail.

  • Unlikely Angel: Dolly Parton stars as a singer who’s sent back to Earth in order to earn a second chance at Heaven by doing good deeds.

  • Mrs. Santa Claus: The big red guy takes a back seat in this TV movie about Mrs. Santa Claus and her adventures with the sleigh.

Christmas Eve, 1997

  • Holiday in Your Heart: Based on LeAnn Rimes’s autobiographical novel, this Lifetime movie also stars the country singer, as she chooses between her dreams of the Grand Ole Opry and her grandmother.

  • Frosty the Snowman: Jimmy Durante narrated this perennial favorite about the chilly guy and his black top hat, first released in 1969.

  • Christmas in My Hometown: A 1996 TV movie from Lifetime, with Melissa Gilbert and Tim Matheson, features an executive who’s supposed to cut jobs at a tractor factory.

Christmas Eve, 1998

  • The Christmas Wish: Neil Patrick Harris is a grandson who, with grandmother Debbie Reynolds, deciphers a Christmas family mystery.

  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town: Another seasonal chestnut, this animated family musical is narrated by Fred Astaire, and was released in 1970.

  • I’ll Be Home for Christmas: Jonathan Taylor Thomas is Jake Wilkinson, a college student who makes a few discoveries about Christmas as he tries to get home for the holiday.

Christmas Eve, 1999

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas: The 1965 animated feature has given us the image of a limp, sparsely needled Christmas tree that nevertheless warms everyone’s hearts.

  • One Special Night: Julie Andrews and James Garner are trapped overnight by a blizzard in a mountain cabin.

  • A Song for the Season: It’s Bethlehem, Kentucky, in this movie starring Gerald McRaney as a school administrator who must fire music-teacher Naomi Judd.

Christmas Eve, 2000

  • Friends: Ross wants to teach his son, Ben, about Hanukkah, but accepts that Ben still needs Santa. Too late to find a Santa suit, Ross ends up in a “holiday” armadillo costume.

  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Nevermind the Jim Carrey movie—the original animated version launched in 1966, and is still a heartfelt Whoville treasure.

  • Trading Spaces Christmas Marathon: TLC airs back-to-back episodes of the home-decorating show in which two sets of friends decorate a room in each other’s homes—as a surprise!

Christmas Eve, 2001

  • The Simpsons: Corporate sponsors help to rebuild the church after Homer and Bart burn it down, but their advertising inside the church prompts a crisis of faith for Lisa.

  • Rudolph’s Shiny New Year: Rudolph gets another chance to shine in this cartoon adventure, released in 1976, in which he has to find Happy, the baby New Year.

  • Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas: Disney released this movie straight to video in 1999, with Donald Duck, Goofy, and Mickey and Minnie all starring in their own stories.

Christmas Eve, 2002

  • The West Wing: The White House staffers head into the Christmas season by promoting peace in the Middle East and supporting a funding initiative to combat infant mortality.

  • Silent Night: Based on a true story, this Hallmark movie, set on Christmas Eve in 1944, stars Linda Hamilton as a German mother who convinces six warring American and German soldiers to declare a truce.

  • The Man Who Saved Christmas: The true story of toy manufacturer A. C. Gilbert, played by Jason Alexander, who convinces the U.S. government to resume toy production for Christmas during World War I.

Christmas Eve, 2003

  • Jack Frost: Michael Keaton comes back to life as a snowman in this family film from 1998.

  • Stealing Christmas: Will Tony Danza—as a bank robber—hit the local bank at Christmas, or is love and the holiday spirit enough to turn him away from crime?

  • Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street: Disney full-length animated movie about what happens when Principal Prickly gets his car stuck in a snowdrift.

Christmas Eve, 2004

  • Miracle on 34th Street: Released in 1947, there are few more heartwarming stories than this one about believing in Santa and in hope.

  • How I Met Your Mother: The sitcom gang head out in style (that is, a rented limo) to find the perfect New Year’s Eve party.

  • Angel in the Family: A Hallmark movie in which a family experiences a holiday miracle when a wife and mother returns to them as an angel.

Christmas Eve, 2005

  • The White House Christmas 2005: HGTV peeks inside the White House to see how it’s decorated for the holidays.

  • The Berenstein Bears’ Christmas Tree: The furry family first headed into the woods to find a Christmas tree in 1979, but the TV cartoon is just as cute now as it was then.

  • ER: Doctors Pratt and Weaver are hoping for a miracle when they operate on a young girl who’s suffering from gunshot wounds on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve, 2006

  • The Happy Elf: Harry Connick Jr. has his work cut out for him to bring holiday happiness to Bluesville.

  • The Polar Express: The 2004 movie shines even on the smaller screen, with Tom Hanks as a train conductor en route to Santa and the North Pole.

  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Burl Ives is the distinctive voice behind the animated gem from 1964 about a reindeer who saves the day for Santa.

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