8 forgotten Christmas specials of the 1980s

Did you spend the holidays with George Burns, Pee-wee and Freddie the Freeloader.

Images: The Everett Collection

They might be known as the epitome of the 1970s family, but the Brady Bunch also made the most-Eighties holiday special of the 1980s. What made A Very Brady Christmas so very, very Eighties? The perms, the pastels, the mustaches. But it was more than the aesthetics The 1988 reunion special was also incredibly popular, drawing a massive number in the ratings. It was the most-viewed TV movie of 1988. Which is why it remains a favorite.

The following specials? Well, they're a little more rare. Like Brenda Lee's "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus" versus "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

Have you seen any of them?

1. Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special



Pee-wee had a busy Christmas, teaching Little Richard how to ice skate, going for a sleigh ride with Magic Johnson (who claimed to be the cousin of Magic Screen), making holiday cards with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello… and so on. He also made Santa quite busy with his wish list, which measured 1.5 miles long. And check out the guest list, too! Oprah, Whoopi, Zsa Zsa, Cher all turned up in the Playhouse.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas



The hills were still alive with the sound of music as Andrews returned to the Alps to belt out melodies from the mountain top. Filmed in Salzburg, Austria, this classy affair features impressive pipes, and we're not just talking about a church organ. John Denver and Placido Domingo guest starred. Despite it being 1987, Denver sang a disco song, "Dancing with the Mountains"… while skiing down the slopes!

Image: The Everett Collection

3. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus



Rankin/Bass is known for beloved, perennial specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. The animation studio also has some deep cuts, like this. This stop-motion marvel was based on a book by L. Frank Baum — yes, the Wizard of Oz author. As you might guess, because it comes from the mind who gave us flying monkeys and melting witches, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus breaks away from the familiar tales of St. Nick, which is why it remains less aired, perhaps.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Leprchauns' Christmas Gold



An even deeper cut from Rankin/Bass, this earlier special merged two holidays. Why not? St. Nick and St. Pat are both saints. Art Carney of The Honeymooners (who once played a Santa Claus on The Twilight Zone, remember) narrated the tale and voiced a principal character.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Dean Martin's Christmas at Sea World



Dean Martin recorded his first Christmas special in 1975. By 1981, he was on his fourth holiday special and running out of ideas, seemingly. Why else bring Shamu into yule? Buck Owens joined the Rat Pack legend at the San Diego aquatic park. 

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Freddie the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner



Long before it crafted "prestige" television like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, the nascent Home Box Office pay-cable channel aired content like this. Red Skelton revived his clown character Freddie the Freeloader, which he first introduced on his Red Skelton Show in 1952. In a piece of unlikely casting, Vincent Price co-starred as Freddie's poor pal, Professor Humperdo.

Image: HBO

7. The George Burns (Early,) Early, Early Christmas Special



You know those people who complain about Christmas being celebrated in November, when Christmas decorations pop up and Christmas carols play in stores before Thanksgiving? George Burns was not one of those people. The (veteran,) veteran, veteran comic finally got around to hosting his first Christmas special in 1981. November 16, 1981, to be exact. He was joined by Bob Hope as Santa Claus and… the "Raw Satin" dancers.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. The Osmond Family Christmas Special



Seventies icons Donny and Marie Osmond brought their cheery flavor of variety entertainment to a string of Christmas specials, beginning with The Donny and Marie Christmas Special in 1979. With an updated '80s perm, Marie and her brother continued to carry on the tradition into the Reagan era. In 1986, the sibling pair was slimmed down to just Marie Osmond's Merry Christmas. Those missing a brother-sister duo were instead treated to guest stars Kirk and Candace Cameron.

Image: The Everett Collection

SEE MORE: See if you remember these 10 Christmas specials from the 1980s


Pac-Man, the Chipmunks, Garfield and soulful raisins all celebrated the season. READ MORE

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MichaelVegas 6 months ago
On the The George Burns (Early,) Early, Early Christmas Special, the women on the show (Besides the actress) were playboy playmates
AnnieM MichaelVegas 6 months ago
The one on the lower right looks like Tawny Kitaen.
Dave 7 months ago
Another favorite 80’s animated special of mine is from the animated THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS series called XMAS MARKS THE SPOT where the Ghostbusters end up transported to Victorian England and they capture the The Christmas Spirits before they can teach Ebenezer Scrooge about Christmas, causing Christmas to be cancelled and hated in the future leaving them to go back in time again to set things straight. An excellent heartwarming and funny episode!
Dave Dave 7 months ago
Dave 7 months ago
One of my favorite watches every year is the Bloom County animated OPUS: A WISH FOR WINGS THAT WORK. Also, check out the uncredited voice work by Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams.
Dave Dave 7 months ago
kwlcat 7 months ago
Take a close look at the George Burns photo. The girl on the lower right seem to have a third arm/hand.
ThomasPotter kwlcat 7 months ago
i believe she is holding a stocking. but it does look like a sleeve.
Charlotte 7 months ago
I have the Dean Martin at Sea World on DVD.
healingmindn 7 months ago
Other than the Carol Burnett Show and Ed Sullivan Show, there were a lot of variety shows (Mostly I recall from the 70's). What about Hee Haw that lasted until '97? In fact, what's wrong with bringing back variety shows from the 70's to MeTV? Johnny Cash? Mac Davis? Bobby Gentry? Joey & Dad? Of course, I love what MeTV has now, but what's wrong with more music?
timothys71 healingmindn 7 months ago
I too would love to see more variety shows on MeTV. The Smothers Brothers had a good one that originally aired, I think, in the late 1960's. It has occasionally surfaced on Get TV, but I don't think they have been airing variety shows the last couple of years. Tennessee Ernie Ford also had one--I think it was called The Ford Show--that was pretty good.
Bapa1 healingmindn 7 months ago
I would also like to see repeats of variety shows, I think it would be pretty good. Some years ago TV Land was showing the Flip Wilson show
AnnieM healingmindn 6 months ago
I grew up on 60's & 70's variety and would love to see a lot of it again. I think the main problem is the music rights, though. For anyone interested, the Tubi TV app has several episodes of "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour"; You can also watch them on the website, tubitv (dot) com.
Mark 7 months ago
I thought Red Skelton was over and done with by 1980? Guess not.
ArchieB 7 months ago
I remember most of them but other than maybe Julie Andrews "The Sound of Christmas," I don't think I saw them. The Carpenters Christmas shows on ABC in the later 1970s were my favorite.
Bapa1 7 months ago
Don't recall a single one, and that is probably a good thing. But it might be fun to view these.
Rob Bapa1 7 months ago
I don't remember any of them either.
Lacey 7 months ago
Wow, I admit, of all the specials I only remember "Freddie the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner."
Thank you for shaking my tree.
AgingDisgracefully 7 months ago
Didn't the '90s have Andy Sipowicz's Pot Luck Yuletide Hoedown?
With a Viewer Warning to NOT be creepy around the mistletoe?
Jerryfan 7 months ago
I remember Pee-Wee and everyone kept bringing fruitcake lol.
Peter_Falk_Fan 7 months ago
I remember watching #1 and #8 on TV. I watched "Leprechauns' Christmas Gold" on Dailymotion. I didn't watch Dean Martin's Christmas specials, but I remember watching Perry Como's Christmas Specials, in the 70s and the 80s.
Snickers Peter_Falk_Fan 7 months ago
My favorites were the Bing Crosby Christmas specials with his wife and family.
tootsieg Snickers 7 months ago
Bing Crosby Christmas specials are a favorite of mine as well. I remember the entire family going for a sleigh ride. Very festive.
Snickers tootsieg 7 months ago
I will always remember Bing and David Bowie's version of Little Drummer Boy (Peace on Earth). A song that needs to be heard on these trying days with so much violence.
Runeshaper 7 months ago
Most of these look like fun 🤩! I vaguely recall Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special 🙂
LoveMETV22 7 months ago
For Giggles why not run one of them on A Sunday evening during the time that "M*A*S*H" and
"All in The Family"Airs (just for variety).
Although guessing broadcast rights may not be available for any of them.
Oh well, just a thought.
MrsPhilHarris LoveMETV22 7 months ago
Excellent idea!
LoveMETV22 LoveMETV22 7 months ago
PS Add: On the "why not run one of them" exclude "Pee-Wee" and "The Osmond Family."
Although some doubt whether the broadcast rights are even available on any of the specials listed in the Story.
Bapa1 LoveMETV22 7 months ago
I'm in!
Kramden62 LoveMETV22 7 months ago
The Osmond Christmas Special is on You Tube.
jeopardyhead 43 months ago
I've seen a link to Freddie the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner on YouTube.
Lillyrose 55 months ago
I’ve never heard of any of these Christmas specials, but the “Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas” special sounds great!
daDoctah 55 months ago
You missed the best one of all: The Max Headroom Christmas Special on Cinemax in 1986 (aired on BBC's Channel 4 the day after Christmas as "Max Headroom's Giant Christmas Turkey"). Guests included Robin Williams, Tina Turner, Bob Geldof and Dave Edmunds.
RobCertSDSCascap daDoctah 55 months ago
Wonder if it will air again?
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