10 Most Merry Christmas Cartoons

Charlie Brown, the Grinch...and 'South Park'?

Christmas cartoons

Even in our modern age, an endearing tradition during the holidays is watching Christmas cartoons on TV. From the classic stop-motion animation cartoons from the mid-1960s by Rankin/Bass Productions to more recent holiday specials by Nickelodeon, this list includes top picks for your annual Christmas cartoon viewing, with something for everyone—naughty and nice.

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'A Charlie Brown Christmas'

A Charlie Brown Christmas
1965 United Features Syndicate

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" is easily the most beloved and iconic of all the Christmas cartoons that have ever aired on TV. I defy anyone not to get a little misty in the eyes when that little tree stands tall and bright or when those tiny round mouths form perfect Os when singing Christmas carols. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was the first TV cartoon that was based on "Peanuts," the popular Charles Schulz comic strip, and it almost didn't happen. Original air date: December 9, 1965.

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'How the Grinch Stole Christmas'

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is another classic Christmas cartoon, sporting a little more of a devilish side. Based on the Dr. Seuss picture book by the same name, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" quickly became a favorite because it had the best talent in animation behind the scenes. Chuck Jones directed the cartoon and stars Boris Karloff and June Foray provided voices.

Although the Grinch is the character you love to hate, the ever-optimistic Max is a definite favorite. The moral of this story has lasted for decades: "Maybe Christmas—perhaps—means a little bit more" than presents. No matter how many times they try to stretch the original into a movie, the original cartoon always wins. Original air date: December 18, 1966.

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'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'

Rudolph and Hermy - Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Videocraft International Productions

"Rudolph" is one of the highest-rated Christmas specials of all time. An example of stop-motion animation from Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass (as opposed to cel animation), "Rudolph" remains much-loved and timeless by all who have ever felt like a misfit toy. "Silver and Gold," "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," and "There's Always Tomorrow" have become standard songs for the Christmas season. Original air date: December 6, 1964. Sometimes you'll be lucky enough to also catch "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" too, from 1976.

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'Frosty the Snowman'

Frosty the Snowman
Classic Media

The "Frosty the Snowman" cartoon is based on the traditional Christmas carol. It tells the story of several buck-toothed children who bring a snowman to life, using a magic top hat. This cartoon was also produced by Rankin and Bass, although they used traditional cel animation rather than stop-motion this time. Legendary actor Jimmy Durante is the narrator. Original air date: December 7, 1969. "Frosty the Snowman"'s success inspired a sequel, "Frosty's Winter Wonderland."

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'The Year Without a Santa Claus'

The Year Without a Santa Claus
Warner Bros. Home Video

"I'm mister heat miser/I'm mister sun." Sing with me! "The Year Without a Santa Claus" is a tale of two cranky brothers, Heat Miser and Snow Miser, at opposite ends of the world who control the weather. When Santa loses his mojo, Mrs. Claus must reconcile the feuding siblings in order to deliver toys to the world's children on time. The Miser brothers' songs can be heard on every Christmas radio station around the country. Original air date: December 10, 1974.

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'The Little Drummer Boy'

The Little Drummer Boy
Classic Media

"The Little Drummer Boy" is a lesser-known stop-motion cartoon from Rankin/Bass, based on the carol about the little boy who follows the Christmas star to pay tribute to Jesus Christ, the newborn king. Children might find this holiday special terribly depressing, because of feeling sad for the little boy who had nothing but his song to give. As adults, we can now see that "The Little Drummer Boy" offers a message for the true meaning of Christmas, celebrating Jesus' birth and giving our talents, whatever they may be. Original air date: December 13, 1976.

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'Christmas With the Simpsons'

The "Christmas With the Simpsons" collection gathers a lot of Christmas episodes from the show into one neat package. It includes the first Christmas special, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," when the Simpsons adopt Santa's Little Helper, along with "Mr. Plow," "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace," "Grift of the Magi," and "She of Little Faith." What's fun about these episodes is that each one searches for the meaning of the holidays in a different way but comes up with pretty much the same sweet answer.

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'Olive, the Other Reindeer'

Olive, the Other Reindeer

Although "Olive, the Other Reindeer" is a fairly recent cartoon, compared to others on this list, it joins the other Christmas classics because it offers humor and insight for children and adults. Olive is a little dog who believes she is a reindeer. The cartoon tells the story of how her dream of being a reindeer comes true. 

This Christmas special is based on the children's book of the same name, perfectly capturing the illustrative style of J. Otto Seibold. Drew Barrymore's performance (one of her first voice-overs) as Olive is charming. Original air date: December 17, 1999.

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'It's a SpongeBob Christmas!'

It's a SpongeBob Christmas!

"It's a SpongeBob Christmas!" was Nickelodeon's first stop-motion animation Christmas special. In it, SpongeBob must defeat Plantkon when he begins turning everyone into a humbug. The cartoon was an animation achievement, demonstrating the humor that is unique to "SpongeBob SquarePants," while displaying the fun and cleverness of stop-motion. The mini sets, textured characters, and catchy musical numbers add up to a sleigh full of fun. Original air date: December 6, 2012.

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'Christmas Time in South Park'

Mr. Hankey in Toilet - Christmas Poo
Comedy Central

This list would not be complete without including "South Park" Christmas episodes. Only this show could deliver the Christmas message wrapped in fecal matter. In "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo," Kyle discovers a special friend who lives in the toilet. In "A Very Crappy Christmas," Mr. Hankey is too busy with his family to spread Christmas cheer, so it's up to the boys.

You can find more "South Park" Christmas episodes on digital and DVD, including the musical "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics," "Red Sleigh Down," and "Woodland Critter Christmas." Enjoy these holiday cartoons after the kiddies are in bed. "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo" original air date: December 17, 1997.