Never mind that supermarkets put out the candy in red and green wrappers on Nov. 1, and department stores have been playing “Feliz Navidad” for weeks. Now that Thanksgiving is past (hey, any pie left?), it’s officially time to get into the Christmas spirit. –Television is ready to help, as it always has been. Families lucky enough to have sets in 1951 gathered the neighbors to watch “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” an opera commissioned by NBC from composer Gian Carlo Menotti and broadcast live. The next year, CBS offered “The Nativity,” with television’s first “A Christmas Carol” (Fredric March as Scrooge!) arriving in 1954.
In the 60-plus years since, almost every variety show and TV comedy or drama has aired a Christmas episode. Very special Christmas specials are just as plentiful.
From the 1960s through the ‘80s, Rankin-Bass ruled Christmas with the likes of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman,” animated half-hours that still air today. Charlie Brown and Mickey Mouse remain Christmas fixtures, if not necessarily Yogi Bear and “The Flintstones.”
With the explosion of cable channels, almost every Christmas special (except very early ones) is alive and well today, either on the air or on DVD. Freeform (formerly ABC Family) packs its lineup with many of those during its “25 Days of Christmas,” starting Thursday.
A fairly recent trend is the flood of modern Christmas movies, a specialty of the Hallmark channels, which began this year’s “Countdown to Christmas” on Oct. 29. Meanwhile, Turner Classic Movies makes sure we see all the real Christmas classics every year.
Clearly, there’s too much Christmas on TV to recap it all in this space. But here is a chronological list of some new specials and movies arriving this season and worth writing on the calendar in red.
Then, in Friday’s Go! Magazine, I'll provide a guide to finding as many old favorites as possible.
“I'll Be Home for Christmas,” 8 p.m. Sunday on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries –In just one of the many new Christmas movies on the Hallmark channels, Mena Suvari is a busy mom planning a quiet Christmas with her daughter (Giselle Eisenberg) until her estranged father (James Brolin), an ex-cop, and his retired police dog show up. The movie features music by Mrs. Brolin, aka Barbra Streisand.
“CMA Country Christmas,” 7 p.m. Monday on ABC –Jennifer Nettles returns as host for the star-packed special, recorded at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Tenn.
“Christmas in Rockefeller Center,” 7 p.m. Wednesday on NBC –The “Today” show crew hosts the annual tree-lighting, with performers including Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Josh Groban and Dolly Parton, plus of course the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.
“Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love,” 8 p.m. Wednesday on NBC –A sequel to last year’s heartwarming, semi-biographical tale finds the Partons (dad Ricky Schroder and mom Jennifer Nettles) struggling financially as Christmas nears, while an important person recognizes the talent in little Dolly (Alyvia Alyn Lind).
“The Great American Baking Show,” 8 p.m. Thursday on ABC –The sweet and spicy baking competition returns, with a tweaked title (minus last year’s “Holiday”) and new competitors. The team is the same: judges Mary Berry, from the British original, and American pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, plus married hosts Nia Vardalos and Ian Gomez.
“I Love Lucy Christmas Special,” 7 p.m. Friday on CBS –A newly colorized episode, “Lucy Gets in Pictures,” with Lucille Ball as the world’s worst showgirl, joins the previously aired “Christmas Episode” (the Ricardos and Mertzes play Santa for Little Ricky) as an hourlong special.
“It’s a Wonderful Life,” 7 p.m. Dec. 3 and 24 on NBC –Now it’s Christmas. An angel tries to get his wings and save a despondent Jimmy Stewart in the 1946 classic, which airs on NBC one more time, on Christmas Eve.
“Heaven Sent,” 7 p.m. Dec. 3 on Lifetime –A couple (Christian Kane and Marley Shelton) are heading for divorce, until an 8-year-old runaway angel turns up.
“Looks Like Christmas,” 7 p.m. Dec. 4 on the Hallmark Channel –Hallmark has two dozen new movies this season, including this one. Anne Heche plays a type A mother who lives to direct the school’s over-the-top Christmas pageant. Then single dad Dylan Neal moves to town and challenges her for the job.
“The Great Christmas Light Fight,” 7 p.m. Dec. 5, 12 and 19 on ABC –Families compete to light up the neighborhood with lavish outside décor in Season 4 of the competition series. Judges Taniya Nayak and Carter Oosterhouse are back for the six-week series, with a $50,000 prize each week.
“Hairspray Live!” 7 p.m. Dec. 7 on NBC –NBC is making a new and welcome holiday tradition of live musicals, this time staging the popular tale of young Tracy Turnblad, who aspires to dance on television. Newcomer Maddie Baillilo is Tracy, with an all-star cast including Harvey Fierstein as Tracy’s mom, Edna.
“Taraji’s White Hot Holidays,” 7 p.m. Dec. 8 on Fox –”Empire” star Taraji P. Henson returns for a second holiday variety special, promising “to spread cheer, goodwill and some holiday magic.” Her guests include her “Empire” son, Jussie Smollett, plus Taye Diggs, Pharrell Williams, Missy Elliott, Alicia Keys, Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC, Snoop Dogg and TLC.
“The Greatest Holiday Commercials Countdown,” 9 p.m. Dec. 12 on the CW –Kevin Frazier of “Entertainment Tonight” counts down the 12 days of Christmas. No, make that 12 top Christmas commercials.
“A Pentatonix Christmas Special,” 7 p.m. Dec. 14 on NBC –The hot a cappella group performs holiday specials, with guests Reba McEntire, Kelly Clarkson and more.
“The Top 12 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time,” 8 p.m. Dec. 14 on the CW –Dean Cain introduces another CW countdown, this one promising to list the greatest Christmas flicks. Count on arguing among viewers.
“iHeart Radio Jingle Ball 2016,” 8 p.m. Dec. 15 on the CW –The Jingle Ball returns as a 90-minute concert from Madison Square Garden, with performers including Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Meghan Trainor and more.
“The 85th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade,” 8 p.m. Dec. 16 on the CW –Olivia Newton-John is grand marshal of the parade down Hollywood Boulevard, with musical performances on two stages and all the giant character balloons you could ask for.
“Terry Crews Saves Christmas,” 8 p.m. Dec. 20 on the CW –A five-episode series, airing through Friday (with a two-episode finale), finds Crews, billed as a Christmas superfan, giving hapless aficionados of the holiday crash courses in how to do Christmas right.
“A Home for the Holidays,” 7 p.m. Dec. 23 on CBS –The annual special promoting foster families and adoption features inspirational stories and music.
“A Christmas Story” marathon, 7 p.m. Dec. 24 on TBS –The traditional marathon runs 24 hours.
“Call the Midwife Holiday Special,” 6:30 p.m. Dec. 25 on PBS –In a tradition in the UK, popular TV series air special episodes on Christmas Day. On this one, the nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House travel to South Africa, where they try to save a clinic in jeopardy.
“The Kennedy Center Honors,” 8 p.m. Dec. 27 on CBS –Stephen Colbert returns as host of the annual special, which nicely bridges the gap between Christmas and New Year’s. This year’s honorees include Al Pacino, James Taylor, Mavis Staples and the Eagles.