The kind of delightfully corny celebrity holiday special that John Legend and Chrissy Teigen recently hosted used to be a TV staple this time of year. Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, it seemed like every crooner got in on the act, inviting celebrity pals onto festively decorated sound stages to share songs and skits.
Now, thanks to streaming and YouTube, you can travel back in time and watch many of your favorites holiday variety specials (some are also available on DVD). Heat up the hot chocolate, find a comfy couch, and dial up the nostalgia to 11.
The Perry Como Show
Popular singer, TV personality, and cardigan sweater lover Perry Como created the art form when he began hosting Christmas specials in 1948, a tradition he kept up until 1994.
You can buy the DVD of his 1974 special with guests The Carpenters, Rich Little, and Peggy Fleming for just $8, or get the flavor of his shows with Como’s 1953 Christmas Eve broadcast recounting of the story of the birth of Christ, sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes.
The Judy Garland Christmas Show
In December 1963, as part of her musical variety show that ran on CBS from 1963 to 1964, the singer and actress hosted a holiday special, with guests Jack Jones and Mel Tormé dropping by to visit Garland and her kids Liza Minelli and Joey and Lorna Luft at “home.”
Highlights of this black-and-white special include the teenage Liza and and the fur-trimmed floor-length gown Garland dons for this “informal evening.” Bonus: Catch the original 1963 commercials for Contact cold pills, Pall Mall cigarettes, and more.
The Andy Williams Christmas Special
Few artists are more closely associated with Christmas specials than Andy Williams, who released eight holiday albums and hosted annual holiday shows in the 60s and 70s. His 1963 recording of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” remains a top tune in December.
You can rent “Andy Williams: Best of Christmas,” a compilation of eight years of specials, on Amazon for $2.99 (Amazon Prime members can stream for free). On Netflix, it’s available as a DVD only.
Or catch his 1966 special on YouTube, with appearances by his parents, brothers, and then-wife French singer Claudine Longet, plus the Osmond Brothers. Get ready for brightly colored matching sweaters and pants.
Bing Crosby Christmas Specials
No surprise that the “White Christmas” singer was also a holiday TV mainstay. Soon after Davie Bowie died, this clip of Bing and Bowie singing Little Drummer Boy on Crosby’s 1977 special went viral. (Clip that deserves to go viral: Crosby and Sinatra Christmas duets from 1957.)
For more of Crosby’s Christmas magic, you can order the highlights DVD “A Bing Crosby Christmas” from Netflix, or watch the full 1977 “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” on YouTube.
In the show, Crosby’s last, the crooner travels to England with his wife and kids at the invitation of a supposed British relative, Sir Percival Crosby. Aside from Bowie, other cameos include Charles Dickens and Twiggy.
The Dean Martin Christmas Show
This charter member of the Rat Pack brought his cool persona and comedic chops to the holidays in this December 1968 NBC special. Bob Newhart, Dom DeLuise, Dennis Weaver, and Bob Hope join a cigarette-smoking, tuxedo-clad Martin is various comedy skits and musical numbers.
Be prepared to explain a Spiro Agnew joke to the kids, not to mention an office holiday party bit that hasn’t aged well in the #MeToo era.
Cher Christmas Show
Sonny and Cher hosted Christmas show in the early 1970s. In 1975, the year they finalized their divorce, Cher hosted her own CBS special, with guests the Lennon Sisters, the Hudson Brothers, Redd Foxx, and a young Chastity Bono.
Come for the somewhat dated comedy sketches (a New York mayor Abe Beame joke!) and Cher’s powerhouse vocals, stay for the intoxicating selection of sequined and feathered gowns, body suits, and capes.
The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait
The brother-sister team of Richard and Karen Carpenter hosted two Christmas specials in the late 1970s, including this 1978 one, which has Gene Kelly, Georgia Engel, and Kristy and Jimmy McNichol showing up for a party at the invitation of a Christmas spirit/mime.
Karen’s distinctive silky voice is on full display, as are the guys’ wide lapels and cavernous bellbottoms.
The Donny and Marie Osmond Christmas Show
The brother and sister act’s first Christmas show in 1976 features music and wholesome merriment against the backdrop of the snow-covered peaks of Provo, Utah. Add to that skating, snowball fights, camp fires, guests Andy Williams and Paul Lynde, the entire Osmond family, and the siblings’ impressive variety of fur coats.
Freddie the Freeloader’s Christmas Dinner
Comedian Red Skelton built entire holiday specials around Freddie the Freeloader, the hobo character he developed on his TV show, which ran in different incarnations from 1951 to 1971. Freddie’s look was said to be inspired by the make-up his father wore when he worked as a clown.
His 1981 HBO special, with guests Vincent Price and Imogene Coco, is part slapstick comedy, part touching tale of Freddie’s Christmas quest to have dinner at a fancy restaurant, with a few heartwarming songs thrown in.
John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together
Singer John Denver recorded several holiday specials. This 1979 one featuring Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and others is a sweet mix of country crooning, muppet melodrama (cue a certain pig), and the folksy wisdom of Kermit, wrapping up with a puppet (not muppet) nativity scene.