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Christmas TV highlights: best shows to watch this holiday season

A Castle for Christmas
Netflix's 'A Castle for Christmas' (Image credit: Netflix)

The Christmas season is officially here, and there will be plenty of Christmas TV programming to watch from now until you unwrap the last present (and probably a little more even after that). From new and classic Christmas movies to special events and holiday-themed TV episodes, we’ve compiled a list of what will be on and when to get viewers into the Christmas spirit.

The best Christmas TV traditions — like a stocking full of new original Christmas movies from Hallmark, Lifetime's "It's a Wonderful Lifetime" slate and month-long Christmas-themed programming from Freeform — are back spreading festive sparkle again this year.  But there are plenty more holiday viewing treats waiting on network TV, cable and streaming and we've got all the details for you below.

Nov. 26

Trolls: Holiday in Harmony
9 p.m. ET/PT, NBC
The Trolls celebrate the holidays in this brand new special, where Queen Poppy plans the first annual Trolls Kingdom Secret Holiday Gift Swap. Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Kenan Thompson, Rachel Bloom, Ron Funches, Anthony Ramos and more are back to voice fan-favorites Trolls characters for this new TV special.

Classic Christmas animated films
Welcome Frosty, the Grinch and more back into your homes this Christmas season as the classic animated movies featuring these characters will once again be playing on TV. Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town and the original animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas are all set to be shown. Unfortunately they all air about the same time on different networks, so set your DVR if you want to watch them all.

  • Blue’s Clues & You: A Blue’s Clues Festival of Lights, Noon ET/PT, Nickelodeon
  • A Loud House Christmas, 7 p.m. ET/PT, Nickelodeon/Paramount Plus
  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, 8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • Frosty the Snowman, 8 p.m. ET/PT, CBS
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 8 p.m. ET/PT, NBC 
  • Masters of Illusions: Christmas Magic 2021, 8 p.m. ET/PT, The CW 
  • 5 More Sleeps ‘Til Christmas, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, NBC 
  • Frosty Returns, 8:32 p.m. ET/PT, CBS 
  • Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, 9 p.m. ET/PT, The CW
  • A Castle for Christmas, Netflix
  • Madagascar: A Little Wild Holiday Goose Chase, Hulu

Nov. 27

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 24-hour marathon
TBS, starting 6 a.m. ET

National Lampoon Christmas Vacation

(Image credit: Hughes Entertainment)

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation ranks high on almost every list of Christmas comedies, so TBS is giving viewers a full day’s worth of the movie to get the Christmas season started. Chevy Chase returns as Clark Griswold, as he and his family welcome relatives, eat plenty of fruit cake and are forced to deal with a squirrel nesting in their Christmas tree.

  • Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire, 8 p.m. ET/PT, CBS 
  • Robbie the Reindeer: Legends of the Lost Tribe, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, CBS 
  • Wellington Paranormal - “Twas the Patrol Before Christmas,” 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, The CW 
  • The Story of Santa Claus, 9 p.m. ET/PT, CBS 

Nov. 28

The Great Christmas Light Fight
9 p.m. ET/PT, ABC

The Great Christmas Light Fight

(Image credit: ABC)

In what has become its own holiday tradition, ABC will once again air the three-night reality series The Great Christmas Light Fight. The show pits four families in a competition to turn their home into the best festive display in just 21 days.

Nov. 29

CMA Country Christmas
8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC

Country music stars Gabby Barrett and Carly Pearce host the 12th annual CMA Country Christmas holiday special, which will feature performances by Jimmie Allen with Louis York & The Shindellas, Breland, Brett Eldredge, Lady A, Pistol Annies, Carrie Underwood and Lainey Wilson.

  • The Great Christmas Light Fight, 9 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • Adventures in Christmasing, 9 p.m. ET/PT, VH1

Dec. 1

89th Annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center
8 p.m. ET, NBC
The lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York has been a TV tradition since 1951. This year, Today anchors Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Craig Melvin and Al Roker will host, with performances by Carrie Underwood, Mickey Guyton, Brad Paisely, Harry Connick Jr., Alessia Cara, Norah Jones, Rob Thomas and, of course, the Radio City Rockettes.

  • Beebo Saves Christmas, 8 p.m. ET/PT, The CW
  • The Wonder Years - “Home for Christmas,” 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • World’s Funniest Animals - "Christmas," 9 p.m. ET/PT, The CW
  • Home Economics - “Secret Santa Gift, $25 Limit,” 9:31 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • Kelly Clarkson Presents: When Christmas Comes Around, 10 p.m. ET/PT, NBC 

Dec. 2

Annie Live!
8 p.m. ET/PT, NBC

The classic musical of the orphan Annie who warms the heart of reluctant millionaire Daddy Warbucks will be performed as a live TV broadcast. Celina Smith (Tyler Perry’s Young Dylan) will star as Annie, with Harry Connick Jr. as Daddy Warbucks, Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan, while Titus Burgess, Megan Hilty and Nicole Sherzinger are also set as part of the cast.

  • Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, 8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • Toy Story That Time Forgot, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • The Great Christmas Light Fight - Finale, 9 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • The B*tch Who Stole Christmas, 9 p.m. ET/PT, VH1
  • Baking It, Peacock
  • The Business of Christmas 2, BET Plus 
  • Kelly Clarkson Presents: When Christmas Comes Around, Hulu 
  • Santa Inc., HBO Max  
  • Single All the Way, Netflix 

Dec. 3

The Great British Baking Show: Holidays season 4
Netflix

A brand new season of The Great British Baking Show arrives on Netflix, with Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith once again tasting their way through a sleigh-full of Yuletide treats.

Dec. 4

It’s a Wonderful Life
8 p.m. ET/PT, NBC

It's a Wonderful Life Jimmy Stewart

(Image credit: Paramount)

Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart’s Christmas classic has been a holiday staple on NBC. And while it will still have its traditional air time on Christmas Eve, return to Bedford Falls to see George Bailey a bit earlier this year. Watch the classic and then see how Jason Sudeikis does the role in the It’s a Wonderful Life table read (Dec. 5)  in support of the The Ed Asner Family Center.

  • A Christmas Story, 6 & 8 p.m. ET/PT, TBS
  • A Clüsterfünke Christmas, 7 p.m. ET/PT, Comedy Central
  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses, 8 p.m. ET/PT, TBS
  • Silent Night — A Song for the World, 8 p.m. ET/PT, The CW

Dec. 5

The 23rd Annual A Home for the Holidays at the Grove
9:30 p.m. ET/PT, CBS

Darren Criss Holiday at the Grove

(Image credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS)

Featuring performances from Justin Bieber, Kane Brown, Alessia Cara and Darren Criss, celebrates the holidays while also featuring uplifting stories of adoption from foster care and raising awareness of this important social issue.

Dec. 6

Michael Bublé’s Christmas in the City
10 p.m. ET/PT, NBC
Grammy Award-winning singer Michael Bublé celebrates the holidays, and the 10th anniversary of his album, Christmas, with this brand new special.

  • A Very Boy Band Holiday, 8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • Hip-Hop Family Christmas, 9.m. ET/PT, VH1
  • David and the Elves, Netflix

Dec. 8

Merry Switchmas
BET Plus
Two identical sisters play identity switch during Christmas party, finding out more about their family and themselves before the night ends. Valerie Pettiford, Peter Parros and Thea Camara star.

  • Olaf's Frozen Adventure (2017), 8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • Christmas Around the World, 8 p.m. ET/PT, The CW
  • Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014), 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, ABC

Dec. 9

  • Christmas Cookie Challenge, 9 p.m. ET/PT, Food Network
  • Housewives of the North Pole, Peacock

Dec. 10

Shark Tank
8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
The sharks gather for a special holiday episode of Shark Tank, where they will look to spread holiday cheer, as well as their own money, to promising entrepreneurs.

  • Michael Bublé’s Christmas in the City, Hulu

Dec. 11

Hot Mess Holiday
7 p.m. ET/PT, Comedy Central
A finance executive is dumped by his cheating fiance during the Diwali holidays, and her best friend is determined to help her have a wild holiday, chaotically coming into possession of a multi-million dollar diamond along the way. Surina Jindal, Richa Moorjani, Kal Penn and Titus Burgess star.

  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), 8 p.m. ET/PT, CBS
  • Christmas Deja Vu, 8 p.m. ET/PT, BET
  • Frosty the Snowman (1969), 9 p.m. ET/PT, CBS
  • Frosty Returns (1995), 9:31 p.m. ET/PT, CBS

Dec. 12

White House Christmas 2021
6 p.m. ET/PT, HGTV
Get an exclusive tour of the White House as it is all decorated for Christmas. This one-hour special documents the three-day project that brings spectacular trees, breathtaking decorations and over-the-top gingerbread creations to the home of the president.

  • America’s Funniest Home Videos Holiday-Themed Episode, 7 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses, 8 p.m. ET/PT, TBS
  • A New Lease on Christmas, 8 p.m. ET/PT, ion
  • A Christmas Proposal, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, CBS
  • Supermarket Sweep Holiday-Themed Episode, 9 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • Greatest Holiday Commercial Countdown 2021, 9 p.m. ET/PT, The CW
  • Holiday Wars, 9 p.m. ET/PT, Food Network

Dec. 13

20 Years of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir
8 p.m. ET/PT, PBS

20 Years of Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir

(Image credit: PBS)

Tony Award-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell is joined by Kristin Chenoweth, Audra McDonald, Kelli O’Hara, Gladys Knight, Angela Lansbury, the Muppets from Sesame Street, Hugh Bonneville and Rob Thomas with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square for the 20th time in this two-hour special concert and retrospective.

  • Holiday Baking Championship, 8-10 p.m. ET/PT, Food Network
  • Let’s Get Married, 9 p.m. ET/PT, VH1
  • American Auto, 10 p.m. ET/PT, NBC (series premiere)
  • House Hunters Ho Ho Home, 10 p.m. ET/PT, HGTV

Dec. 14

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
9 p.m. ET/PT, PBS
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is a new production that picks up where the famous ballet ends, answering questions like who the Nutcracker is and what happens to the girl and the prince. John Mauceri conceived the piece, with Alan Cumming lending his talents as well.

  • Grand Crew, 8 p.m. ET/PT, NBC (series premiere)
  • Making Miracles Happen: Behind 'Miracles' Across 125th Street', 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, VH1
  • Gordon Ramsay's Road Trip: Christmas Vacation, 9 p.m. ET/PT, Fox
  • Fixer to Fabulous Holiday Surprise, 9 p.m. ET/PT, HGTV
  • A Christmas Stray, 9 p.m. ET/PT, OWN
  •  StarBeam: Beaming in the New Year, Netflix

Dec. 15

iHeartRadio Jingle Ball
8 p.m. ET/PT, The CW
This special TV broadcast of iHeartRadio’s 2021 Jingle Ball tour will feature performances from Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Jonas Brothers, Doja Cat, Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion and more.

  • Young Rock Holiday-Themed Episode, 8 p.m. ET/PT, NBC
  • Kenan Holiday-Themed Episode, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, NBC 
  • Mr. Mayor’s Magical L.A. Christmas, 9 p.m. ET/PT, NBC
  • A Very Chrisley Christmas, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT, NBC 

Dec. 16

A California Christmas: City Lights
Netflix
A sequel to Netflix's popular original movie A California Christmas, Callie and Joseph are back, running their own dairy farm and winery. However, when business and family obligations call Joseph back to the city, their romance is threatened.

  • L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth 2021, 8 p.m. ET/PT, NBC
  • Station 19 Holiday-Themed Episode, 8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • Jersey Shore: Family Vacation, 8 p.m. ET/PT, MTV
  • David's Down-Home Christmas - Gifts, 8 p.m. ET
  • Grey’s Anatomy Holiday-Themed Episode, 9 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • Christmas Cookie Challenge, 9 p.m. ET/PT, Food Network
  • Holiday Baking Championship, 10 p.m. ET/PT, Food Network
  • A Christmas Wish, BET Plus
  • Days of Our Lives: A Very Salem Christmas, Peacock

Dec. 17

  • The Greatest #AtHome Videos, 8-10 p.m. ET/PT, CBS
  • The 89th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parades, 8 p.m. ET/PT, The CW

Dec. 18

Holmes for the Holidays
8 p.m. ET/PT, HGTV
Mike, Sandy and Michael Holmes Jr. compete to see whose house has the best holiday decorations, from the most extravagant light displays to ice sculptures and more.

  • Merry Switchmas, 8 p.m. ET/PT, BET
  • Shawn Saves Christmas, 9 p.m. ET, QVC

Dec. 19

A Charlie Brown Christmas
7:30 p.m. ET/PT, PBS

A Charlie Brown Christmas on Apple TV+

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

Celebrate Christmas with the Peanuts gang once again, as Charlie Brown and company return to TV to share the true meaning of the season. In addition to its airing on PBS, A Charlie Brown Christmas is available to stream on Apple TV Plus.

  • Christmas Takes Flight, 8 p.m. ET/PT, CBS 
  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses, 8 p.m. ET/PT, TBS
  • Holiday Wars, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT, Food Network

Dec. 20

Miracles Across 125th Street
9 p.m. ET/PT, VH1
Nick Canon, Lil Kim and more star in this VH1 original Christmas movie that sees a Harlem rapper return to his family church after battling drug addiction to confront his past on Christmas Eve.

  • Annie Live!, 8 p.m. ET/PT, NBC
  • The Secrets of Christmas Revealed, 8 p.m. ET/PT, Fox
  • Holiday Baking Championship, 8 p.m. ET/PT, Food Network
  • Christmas at Belmont, 9 p.m. ET/PT, PBS

Dec. 21

General Hospital
2 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
Even day-time soap operas are getting into the Christmas spirit, as General Hospital will have its own holiday-themed episode.

  • In Performance at the White House, 8 p.m. ET/PT, PBS
  • A Saturday Night Live Christmas Special, 9 p.m. ET/PT, NBC
  • Greatest Holiday Commercial Countdown 2021, 9 p.m. ET/PT, The CW
  • Grumpy Christmas, Netflix

Dec. 22

The Price Is Right at Night
8 p.m. ET/PT, CBS

The Price Is Right

(Image credit: Ella DeGea/CBS)

Celebrate the holidays with one of America’s favorite game shows. Drew Carey hosts this jolly episode of The Price Is Right that will see families compete for festive prizes. The special episode will also highlight pet adoption with animals looking for their forever homes helping out with the Showcase Showdown.

  • General Hospital Holiday-Themed Episode, 2 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • Forged in Fire: The 12 Cuts of Christmas, 2-9 p.m. ET/PT, History Channel
  • Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018), 8 p.m. ET/PT, NBC
  • The Masked Singer Christmas Singalong, 8 p.m. ET/PT, Fox
  • Deadly Christmas at Red River, 8 p.m. ET/PT, ID
  • The 44th Annual Kennedy Center Honors, 9 p.m. ET/PT, CBS
  • Moonshiners: Master Distiller, 9:02 p.m. ET/PT, Discovery
  • Moonshiners: Deck the Stills, 10:05 p.m. ET/PT, Discovery

Dec. 23

Christmas for Sale
BET Plus
Real Estate Mogul Terri McKenzie finds herself with a case of mistaken identity when billionaire George Camden needs help with his divorce proceedings. When she falls in too deep, can the truth save her company and her heart? Shanti Lowry, Aaron D. Spears and Nadine Ellis star.

  • Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, 8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • Seinfeld ("The Strike," aka Festivus episode), 8 p.m. ET/PT, Comedy Central (also available to stream anytime on Netflix)
  • A Very Boy Band Holiday, 9 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • TMZ's Merry Elfin' Christmas: Bye, Bye 2021, 9 p.m. ET/PT, Fox
  • CMA Country Christmas, 10 p.m. ET/PT, ABC

Dec. 24

A Christmas Story 24-hour marathon
Starts at 8 p.m. ET on TBS & 9 p.m. ET on TNT

A Christmas Story

(Image credit: MGM)

Go ahead, try and watch the entire 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story, I triple dog dare you! This continuous running of the classic Christmas comedy has become a beloved tradition for many.

  • Your Worst Nightmare Before Christmas, 1 p.m.-4 a.m. ET/PT, ID
  • Diehard, 6:45 p.m. ET/PT, SyFy
  • Annie Live! Sing-Along!, 7 p.m. ET/PT, E!
  • Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, 8 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • A Holly Dolly Christmas, 8 p.m. ET/PT, CBS
  • It’s a Wonderful Life, 8 p.m. ET/PT, NBC
  • Christmas Around the World, 8 p.m. ET/PT, The CW
  • The Fright Before Christmas, 8 p.m. ET/PT, Travel
  • Shrek the Halls, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, ABC 
  • Disney Prep & Landing, 9 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • 20 Years of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir, 9 p.m. ET/PT, PBS
  • Disney Prep & Landing 2: Naughty vs Nice, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • Christmas on BBCA The Graham Norton Show, 11 p.m. ET/PT, BBC America
  • Christmas Eve Mass with Pope Francis, 11:30 p.m. ET/PT, NBC 
  • 1,000 Miles from Christmas, Netflix

Dec. 25

Call the Midwife Holiday Special
9 p.m. ET/PT, PBS 

Call the Midwife

(Image credit: BBC / Nealstreet)

The popular British import will have a brand new Christmas special this year. Christmas 1966 promises to be a memorable one as Lucille and Cyril prepare for their upcoming winter wedding. The Nonnatus House team are faced with their busiest Christmas Day ever as the Maternity Home is filled with expectant moms, each with their own challenging case. Luckily Mother Mildred is on hand to support the team.

  • Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade, 10 a.m. ET/PT, ABC
  • NBA Basketball: Atlanta Hawks vs New York Knicks, Noon ET, ESPN
  • NBA Basketball: Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks, 2:30 p.m. ET, ABC
  • NFL Football: Cleveland Browns vs Green Bay Packers, 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox   
  • NBA Basketball: Golden State Warriors vs Phoenix Suns, 5 p.m. ET, ABC
  • Disney Holiday Magic Guest 2021, 7:40 p.m. ET/PT, Disney
  • NBA Basketball: Brooklyn Nets vs Los Angeles Lakers, 8 p.m. ET, ABC & ESPN
  • NBA Basketball: Dallas Mavericks vs Utah Jazz, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT, ESPN
  • A Christmas Story 24-hour marathon, TBS & TNT 

Michael Balderston is a D.C.-based entertainment writer and assistant managing editor for What to Watch. He previously has written for TV Technology and Awards Circuit.