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Christmas TV: what not to miss

Ah, Christmas: season of peace, love, goodwill to all men... and scoffing the contents of the kids' selection boxes in front of the telly. Take a look at our guide to this year's best festive TV specials and family films

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Monday 21 December

White Christmas - 11.50am, Channel 4

The Irving Berlin festive classic, starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, depicts a group of 1940s variety performers trying to bring a bit of Christmas magic to an old WWII commander. Far-fetched? Yep. Cheesy? You betcha. But it's actually The Law to watch it at Christmas, so you might as well lay down a supply of cheese straws and chocolate Santas and settle in for the ride.

The Great British Bake Off Christmas Masterclass - 5.15pm, BBC2

Seasonal tips from the professionals with plenty of festive innuendo to put the cherry on the (Christmas) cake: the GBBO festive edition should be one of the highlights of your Christmas TV schedule. Bring on the Yule Log jokes. 

Cue the Queen: Celebrating the Christmas Speech - 7pm, BBC1

It might feel as if it's been going on since the dawn of time, but the Queen's annual address to the nation was once a sparkling innovation (no, really). Kirsty Young explores the origins of, and curious trivia behind, the royal Christmas Day broadcast.


Tuesday 22 December

The Polar Bear Family and Me - 1.45pm, BBC2

BABY. POLAR. BEARS. Do you really need to know any more? Oh, you do? OK: this is the second in a three-part series (the first airs on 21 December; the final instalment tomorrow night) that follows the fortunes of an adorable family of polar bears.

Shrek the Third - 3.50pm, BBC1

If you manage to spot a Shrek-free hour on the TV this Christmas, you win a prize (allegedly). BBC1 is showing all the Shrek films over the holidays, at 3.50pm every day from 21 December onwards. Luckily, a big green ogre making fart jokes is both funny AND festive. 

The Secret Garden - 4.10pm, Channel 5

"AIBU to secretly plant flowers in my moody Uncle's weird hidden garden without him knowing? And AIBU to think my cousin isn't ill, just horribly entitled?" Poor Mary Lennox: consigned to a manor house in the middle of nowhere in the pre-internet era, without even the outlet of Mumsnet. Her bad luck, though, is our good fortune: this warm and whimsical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic children's novel is perfect pre-Christmas fodder. 


Wednesday 23 December

Christmas University Challenge - 8pm, BBC2

The delight of watching Jeremy Paxman berating undergraduates for their ignorance is amplified a thousand-fold when the contestants are actually elite institutions' famous alumni. Plus, of course, there's the option of upping the ante and introducing a festive forfeit: a shot of eggnog for every wrong answer yelled at the telly. Merry Christmas!

Peter Kay's Car Share - 10.35pm, BBC1

Missed this unexpectedly joyful series first time round - or ready for a second viewing? Reruns of one of the year's most charming shows about co-workers thrown together in a company car-share scheme should help get you into the peace-to-all-men Christmas spirit. 

Top of the Pops 2 Christmas Special - 11pm, BBC2

A nostalgic special to keep you humming while you wait for the announcement of this year's Christmas No 1. The Beeb promises us classic footage from Adele, Pulp and The Pogues (of course) - plus, apparently, Sir Tom Jones "frolicking in the snow". Whatever that means, we're up for it.


Thursday 24 December

A Christmas Carol - 2.20pm, BBC1

Jim Carrey stars in this remake of the Dickens classic. We all know the story: Ebenezer Scrooge transforms from miser to philanthropist with the assistance of three ghosts from Christmas past, present and future. Familiar, comforting, and actually rather funny.

Carols from Kings - 5.15pm, BBC2

Stop running around for an hour and listen to the heavenly voices. A soul-stirring reminder of what Christmas is all about. You can go back to panic-planning tomorrow's lunch later.

The Snowman and the Snowdog - 5.25pm, Channel 4

Presumably James, the original little boy, is a jaded middle-ager by now, so there's another little chap going flying. He finds the famous coat and hat in the cupboard of his new house and immediately races out to build a snowman. This time, however, he knocks himself up a floppy-eared snowdog as well, and cartoony gorgeousness ensues.


Friday 25 December

Doctor Who - 5.15pm, BBC1

The first episode completely lacking in Clara sees the Doctor reunited with River Song - although she doesn't quite know who he is. With appearances by Greg Davies and Matt Lucas, this special promises a return to some of the glorious silliness that makes Who great.

Call the Midwife - 7.30pm, BBC1

It's approaching 1960, but have our beloved midwives moved with the times? Certainly not. In fact, press preview photos suggest that Sister Monica Joan... runs away?! Oh golly. Meanwhile, Patsy takes her boy scouts on a festive trip, although they appear still to be wearing shorts despite the fact that it's snowing. Hmm.

Downton Abbey - 8.45pm, ITV

After six heart-in-mouth series, we'll finally be saying goodbye to Robert Crawley and his extended family in the show's final episode. But not before Edith's family secret is laid to rest, Isobel and Violet find themselves - gasp! - on the same side for once, and Anna and Bates finally receive good news (three guesses as to what that might be...).

Saturday 26 December

The Nation's Favourite Disney Song - 6pm, ITV

From The Jungle Book to The Lion King, Mulan to Cinderella, ITV explores the stories behind some of Disney's most iconic tunes. If you yourself can't cope with the inevitable deluge of Frozen, we recommend popping the kids in front of the telly and enjoying some quality alone-time with the leftovers.

Dickensian - 7pm, BBC1

A glorious mash-up of Dickens' characters in which Little Nell lives, Miss Havisham meets Scrooge, and Oliver Twist's story is told from an unexpected point of view. The first two episodes are broadcast tonight before the series continues in 2016; don't miss the start! 

Big Fat Quiz of the Year - 9pm, Channel 4

Watch much-loved comedians and TV personalities mucking about while testing your memory of the past 12 months. The 2015 line-up includes Rob Brydon, Sue Perkins, David Mitchell, Claudia Winkleman, Greg Davies and Jo Brand. It's bound to be brilliant.


Sunday 27 December

Hugo - 3.35pm, Channel 4

Based on the gorgeously illustrated novel by Brian Selznick, this film about a little boy who lives in a Parisian train station stars Sacha Baron Cohen (as a frothing-at-the-mouth gendarme), Ben Kingsley (as a jaded and cynical toy shop owner) and Asa Butterfield (Hugo himself). Beautifully shot and utterly heart-warming.

And Then There Were None - 9pm, BBC1

The BBC is really investing in its serial dramas this holiday season: this is a remake of the classic Agatha Christie novel, wherein 10 guilty people are summoned to a remote island by a creepy mysterious letter. Tense, tautly plotted, and the cast looks amazing: Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill, Toby Stephens and (swoon) Aidan Turner.

Miranda Hart: My What I Call Live Show - 11pm, BBC1

Tickets for this tour sold out in record time, so here's your chance to nab a front-row seat if you missed it in person. Packed with all the self-aware middle-class embarrassment we've come to expect from Miranda. Such fun!


Monday 28 December

Madagascar - 4.25pm, BBC1

The ever-popular kids' film about four pampered animals from the New York Zoo who set out to discover the world, featuring Sacha Baron Cohen as the unforgettable king of the lemurs, and, of course, kamikaze penguins.  

A Frozen Christmas - 7.05pm, Channel 4

Astonishingly, this is not a money-making spin-off regurgitating Let It Go and Do You Want To Build A Snowman; instead, it's a documentary about ice sculptures. Turns out they're harder to make - and worth more to the economy - than you'd have thought.

The Holiday - 10.15pm, ITV

This festive rom-com sees Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz embark on a Christmas house swap (it's basically an early version of AirBnb) and find love in their new locations. But will all be lost when the time comes to return home? Of course, everything works out in the end. And there's copious chunky knitwear, for full festive feeling.

 The Cadbury Advent calendar trucks are touring the country in the run up to Christmas. Find out where they're going to be today!


Liked this? Try these: 

Top 10 Christmas films

Mumsnet Christmas playlist

Local Santa's grottos


Last updated: about 3 years ago