A Few Great Christmas Specials From the 1980s

James Logie

Photo by joshua herrera on Unsplash

There are many beloved Christmas classics: Rudolph, Frosty, Home Alone, White Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas are a few that come to mind.

However, these are all from different decades and were adopted by kids of the 80s. What about Christmas specials from the 1980s you may have forgotten about?

The classics rightly deserve their place as holiday staples, but this is a look back on a few you may or may not know of, and come out in the 80s.

A Garfield Christmas

This special takes all the things we loved about the comic strip but also gives it some heart.

Here’s the quick synopsis: Jon, Garfield, and Odie are going to head out to his family’s farm to celebrate Christmas. We meet Jon’s cynical Grandma, and she and Garfield strike up a quick bond.

We hear stories about Jon’s grandpa, who is no longer with us. One night, Garfield discovers old letters from Jon’s grandpa. They were love letters written to Jon’s grandma and Garfield gives them to her as a gift on Christmas morning.

Garfield also gets a thoughtful gift from Odie: a backscratcher he made himself.

As mentioned, this special has some heart to it. And Garfield steps outside his usual cynical comfort zone to talk about loving each other.

This special is interesting because it’s semi-autobiographical and based on Jim Davis’ own childhood memories. He even had a brother they called Doc-Boy.

The special came out on December 21st, 1987. They often played it alongside the Charlie Brown special and would be in rotation for 13 straight years. And it was a big hit.

They nominated the special for an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program and showed up in TV Guide’s list of the 10 best holiday specials for families.

A Muppets Family Christmas

This was the Muppets firing on all cylinders and was one of the last things Jim Henson was involved with.

Hopefully, you have seen this thing as it takes all the great things about the Muppets; family, singing, comedy, warmth, and love, and puts it into a Christmas special.

It starts with a bunch of the Muppets going to surprise Fozzie’s mother. It turns out she planned a trip to go surfing in California and now has to cancel. She also rented her house to Doc and Sprocket from Fraggle Rock.

This causes chaos, especially when a lot of the members of Sesame Street show up. We get a running bit about Piggy trying to get out to the farmhouse, and there’s even a voyage underground where we see the Fraggles.

Fun Fact: this is the first, and only time, we see the entire Muppet Universe — The Muppets, Sesame Street, The Muppet Babies, and Fraggle Rock — all together in one show.

A snowstorm traps everyone in the farmhouse. Piggy finally makes it, and we get the perfect Muppet family Christmas celebration.

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: Christmas Special

Every TV series has a Christmas Special. And they’re often quite good. But they seem like a dime-a-dozen and don’t stray too much from their regular premise.

The Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special is one that stands out.

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was so wonderfully bizarre. It was ahead of its time, and also a throwback. This special came out in 1988 and is as over the top as the regular show was.

Here’s a rundown of some of the guest appearances:

  • Oprah
  • Cher
  • Grace Jones
  • Little Richard
  • Charo
  • KD Lang
  • Annette Funicello
  • Frankie Avalon
  • Dinah Shore

How’s that for the most random bunch of celebrities stuffed into a Christmas Special?

The premise of the show is simple, but still kind of sweet: Pee-Wee has a Christmas wish list that is so long, there won’t be enough presents left for all the other kids on Earth.

Santa comes to him and tries to point this out, and ultimately, Pee-Wee learns the true meaning of Christmas.

Many say it's one of their top favorite Christmas specials and they watch it every year. You can usually find it on Netflix.

The Christmas Tree Train

This animated special from 1983 is a bit of a deep cut, but worth checking out. It has a bit of a Frosty the Snowman feel to it.

The story is about a bear cub named Buttons and his friend Rusty, who is a fox. They hop aboard a freight train to head to the big city but end up getting lost.

Now, they have to get home in time for Christmas and avoid all the obstacles preventing them.

It is a pretty obscure special. It would only live on through kids who taped it off the TV when it aired on December 2nd, 1983.

It will definitely still work for younger kids today as it is pretty timeless. Or, if it’s one of those things that slipped your mind, you may love a revisit.

The Night They Saved Christmas

This live-action, made-for-TV movie came out on ABC on December 13th, 1984.

The Night They Saved Christmas is about an oil company exploring the North Pole. The guy running this project is named Michael Baldwin and all their blasting through the ice isn’t producing any results.

In the meantime, he’s having issues with his family and his kids are debating about the existence of Santa Claus.

They threatened Micheal to be fired, and he ends up meeting Santa’s head elf: Ed. Ed tells him all his work in the North Pole could destroy North Pole City.

Micheal now knows Santa is real and takes his family to the North Pole to meet him. Michael tries to protect North Pole City from an evil business owner, as one more blast for oil could ruin Christmas as we know it.

Michael prevents the damage, and the evil business owner eventually sees Santa and his reindeer and becomes a believer.

Since this is a TV movie from 1984, it looks cheap but is still filled with a ton of 80s Christmas charm. Luckily, you can still find it on YouTube.

This special was a big hit at the time and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming.

If you’re looking for a new Christmas special to embrace, you may love it.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

Most people don’t know this one, but it’s quite significant. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is a stop motion special by Rankin/Bass — and it was the last Christmas production they would ever make.

Rankin/Bass and Christmas go hand-in-hand. This production company shaped the childhoods of millions of kids at Christmas and it wouldn’t be the holidays without their specials.

As I mentioned, this was the last Christmas special they would produce before the company shut down in 1987. Here's the story:

The Council of the Immortals is where the story of Santa Claus is told. Ak, one of the council, shares how he found Santa abandoned in a snowy woods.

Ak, and a lioness named Shiegra, both raise the baby. Baby Santa is then stolen by Necile, a fairy, but she ends up getting to raise him. When Claus grows up, he has to live with the mortals. So, to fit in, he sets up a workshop with an elf named Tingler.

Claus ends up making toys because all the kids love them. He then delivers the toys in a sack until a bunch of thugs jumps him. Ak sees how important Claus is and gives him immortality to keep delivering his presents every year.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is based on a book of the same name from 1902 and written by Wizard of Oz creator, L. Frank Baum. This may explain the fantastical elements of it.

Fun fact: the story is pretty dark, so Rankin/Bass created the character of Tingler — who was not in the book — to bring a bit of comic relief to the show.

You may or may not remember this special when it came out, but there was a lot of hype to it — it was a Rankin/Bass Christmas special, after all.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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