’Tis the season to be jolly and slump down on the sofa with a glass of your favourite something to enjoy the best of what the box has to offer.
We’ve been sampling the Christmas spirit a little bit early this year - everything in moderation, obviously - and here are our 12 festive TV picks.
Also, there was so much good cheer that we’ve rounded it off with a further ‘six to see’ this holiday season. Merry Christmas, one and all!
Terry Pratchett’s The Abominable Snow Baby - Channel 4
Christmas Day at 7.30pm
Channel 4’s original festive animations have become one of the delights of the Christmas schedules and this year it promises to be a real cracker.
Julie Walters, Hugh Dancy and David Harewood bring to life Terry Pratchett’s story of the Abominable Snow Baby.
The tale of an English village which is thrown into upheaval when a huge snowfall brings the arrival of a 14ft Abominable Snow Baby, it’s a fabulously funny and moving treat for children (and anyone who’s ever been one).
What they say: ‘The animated special is the star on top of Channel 4's festive tree.’ Digital Spy
The Larkins at Christmas - ITV
Christmas Day at 9pm
ITV’s lovingly-crafted new take on HE Bates’ The Darling Buds of May returns for a Christmas special.
The specially-extended festive edition completes a hat-trick of ITV drama on Christmas night, following hour-long episodes of Emmerdale and Coronation Street.
Written by Simon Nye and starring Bradley Walsh and Joanna Scanlan as Pop and Ma Larkin, the Christmas special features no end of chaos as there’s both a burglar on the loose and a power cut with Scanlan promising ‘lots of twists and turns’.
What they say: ‘A joyous, comforting and homely show which feels like you’re getting a big old hug.’ Radio Times
The Amazing Mr Blunden - Sky Max / NOW
Christmas Eve at 7pm
This remake of the classic family ghost story is a time-travelling treat for all the family.
Written, directed by, and starring Mark Gatiss, it tells the story of two teenagers who meet up with a pair of ‘ghost children’ who have come from the past in desperate need of help.
A haunted house tale for the ages starring Simon Callow and Tamsin Greig, it is based on Lionel Jeffries’ 1972 follow-up to the Railway Children and adapted by Gatiss from its source novel, The Ghosts by Antonia Barber. A spooky festive delight.
What they say: ‘An enchanting film that … slowly unfurls like an old-school adventure novel.’ Radio Times
The Great Christmas Bake Off 2021 - Channel 4
Christmas Day at 8pm
If you’ve spent hours in the kitchen on Christmas Day, there’s only one reason - albeit a very good reason - why you’d want to see the inside of another one. And that’s the Bake Off tent for another Great Christmas Bake Off.
This year’s special features four stars from Channel 4’s acclaimed drama It’s A Sin - Olly Alexander, Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis and Shaun Dooley.
And it will be followed by a second Bake Off special in the New Year with four previous contestants - Kim-Joy and Jon from series nine, and series 11’s Hermine and Rowan.
What they say: ‘The baking is almost incidental as they are such a fun group. There’s laughter, delighted squealing and occasional innuendoes. La!’ Radio Times
The Voice Kids - ITV
27, 28, 29 December at 7.30pm
There’s a new coach in one of the big red chairs as Melanie C joins the line-up for the fifth series of ITV’s The Voice Kids.
The former Spice Girl will be joining Pixie Lott, Danny Jones and will.i.am as a whole new host of seven to 14-year-olds do their best to impress.
And Melanie C’s arrival is not the only change on the new series, which will air over three consecutive nights with ITV promising a ‘Christmas television event not to be missed’.
What they say: ‘The ability and confidence of the pint-sized, would-be pop stars is really quite something. The competition is tougher than ever.’ Radio Times
Last Train to Christmas - Sky Premiere / NOW
18 December at 8pm
Michael Sheen stars in this festive feelgood fantasy as a 1980s nightclub owner and small-town celebrity whose train ride home to a family reunion in Nottingham turns into a journey like no other.
Tony Towers (Sheen) discovers that by walking up and down the train he can travel forwards and backwards in time - with sometimes devastating revelations - and what he does in one carriage has life-changing consequences for what he finds in the next.
Written and directed by Julian Kemp, the Sky Original production stars Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones) and Cary Elwes (Stranger Things, The Princess Bride) and features appearances by Katherine Kelly and Anna Lundberg.
What they say: ‘Time travelling mayhem, 1980s nostalgia, life-changing decisions … and Michael Sheen in a fantastic 1980s blond mullet.’ What To Watch
Clarice – Alibi
27 December at 9pm
Bah, humbug! At some point during the Christmas holidays, you may feel in need of a little break from the festivities - and palate cleansers don’t come much more stark than Clarice.
Inspired by Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, the focus of Alibi’s new psychological thriller is not on Hannibal Lecter but Clarice Starling, played by Rebecca Breeds (Pretty Little Liars, Home and Away).
We join the brilliant but vulnerable FBI agent one year after the events of the Harris novel, on the trail of a serial killer in the series that promises a ‘deep dive into the untold personal story of Clarice Starling’.
What they say: ‘Surges into a leading position on the back of a beautifully underplayed performance from its lead actress … Promises to be a cracker.’ Sydney Morning Herald
All Creatures Great and Small - Channel 5
Christmas Eve at 9pm
Christmas is a time for nostalgia and there are few more feel-good ways of turning back the clock than Channel 5’s All Creatures Great and Small.
This festive special concludes the second series of the veterinary period drama that’s broken ratings records for Channel 5.
Adapted from James Herriot’s much loved stories, it is James and Helen's first Christmas together as an engaged couple but not everything goes to plan in the season closer that promises ‘equal parts warmth, heartache and yuletide cheer’.
What they say: ‘No-one gets the Christmas they’d expected. Any sentimentality is nicely, and sometimes poignantly, undercut.’ Radio Times
Live: Joe Lycett - Mummy’s Big Christmas Do! - Channel 4
22 December at 10pm
Joe Lycett throws a big queer Christmas party live from his hometown of Birmingham celebrating everything that is LGBTQ+.
The comedian and TV presenter said the show would ‘combine three of my favourite things – LGBTQ+ culture, Birmingham and chaotic live television’ and promised ‘drag queens, beloved TV huns, queer icons and allies’.
Plus the audience will be full of ‘amazing talents, astonishing outfits and brilliant stories from the queer community in Birmingham and beyond’. An anarchic festive treat.
What they say: ‘Joe Lycett hosts a queer Christmas party to end all Christmas parties.’ iNews
Hansel & Gretel: After Ever After - Sky Max / NOW
23 December at 8pm
David Walliams’ fairy tale adaptations have fast become as much a part of Christmas tradition as roast turkey and putting up a tree. Well, almost.
This time Walliams offers a unique twist - and occasionally twisted - take on Hansel & Gretel, picking up the story at the moment the children have escaped the witch’s clutches. Or have they?
Sheridan Smith stars as the witch alongside Walliams as a troll and Mark Addy as Hansel and Gretel’s father, Englebert. The titular pair are played by newcomers Bill Bekele and Lily Aspell.
What they say: ‘David Walliams’ After Ever After has already told us what happens after the end of Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk and now it’s the turn of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale.’ iNews
Spitting Image Christmas Special – ITV
Christmas Eve at 10pm (and available now on BritBox)
Two series into its record-breaking return on BritBox, Spitting Image is back for a Christmas special on the channel where it all began.
With the political news cycle currently moving even faster than Santa’s sleigh, the Spitting Image team take hilarious aim at Boris Johnson, Keir Stamer and Rishi Sunak.
Plus there’s a shocking Christmas surprise for Prince Andrew, Phoebe Waller-Bridge adds a bit of flair to the Queen’s annual Christmas message and Tom Cruise steps in to help save Father Christmas’s Day.
What they say: ‘The satirical puppet comedy won’t be pulling any punches this holiday season.’
Expedition with Steve Backshall – Dave
19 December, Boxing Day at 8pm
It’s the end of a second successive year when we’ve not been going away as much as we once would, for reasons we presumably don’t need to go into here.
But there’s no-one better to whisk us away from it all than adventurer Steve Backshall, although 5-star luxury resorts aren’t on the agenda, obviously.
In this second series of his jaw-dropping Expedition with Steve Backshall on Dave, the explorer takes us into uncharted territory in pursuit of new discoveries and world firsts, from kayaking in eastern Russia to diving for sharks off a volcanic island in the eastern Pacific.
What they say: ‘Takes on physical challenges, encounters amazing wildlife and meets incredible people.’ Radio Times
The deserts of the Middle East have been good to us for #Expeditions; finding critically endangered Arabian leopard, exploring unknown canyons, making first ascents of crumbling sandstone massifs. But this mission beneath Arabian sands may be the best yet…tonight on @davechannel pic.twitter.com/dlL4Ge7YKW— Steve Backshall (@SteveBackshall) December 5, 2021
Six more to see …
Billy Connolly: My Absolute Pleasure - ITV
Boxing Day at 9.30pm
The Big Yin is back on ITV for the second Christmas in a row, giving viewers an insight into his life in the Florida Keys and looking back on his favourite stand-up routines, some of them shown on TV for the first time.
Ragdoll - Alibi
20, 21 December at 9pm
The modern day Faustian thriller comes to a thrilling conclusion with the final two parts airing on successive nights on Alibi. The serial killer drama starring Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Thalissa Teixeira and Lucy Hale manages to be both wickedly funny and compellingly scary all at the same time.
Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye - Sky Max
21 December at 8pm
Ashley Jensen returns for a festive special of the sleuthing comedy drama. This time the PR-turned-amateur detective is hired to protect a woman from her ghosts of Christmas past, only for the new client to wind up dead.
The Greatest Snowman - Channel 4
Christmas Eve at 8pm
Not just the most puntastic title of the festive season, celebrities including Johnny Vegas, Dani Dyer and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen try to build the best snowman with the help of expert ice sculptors and snow builders on an Alpine mountainside. Sue Perkins presides.
Christmas Cruising with Susan Calman - Channel 5
20, 21 December at 9pm
Making her first appearance replacing Jane McDonald in Channel 5’s ‘Cruising with …’ series, comedian Susan Calman boards a festive cruise into a real-life winter wonderland taking in Norway’s stunning coastline, the Northern Lights, and reindeer sledding in the Arctic Circle.
The Masked Singalong - ITV
Christmas Day at 6pm
ITV promises the ‘most bonkers celebrity singalong bash of the year’ with this special edition of The Masked Singer, the perfect appetiser before the mystery singing show returns for a third series in the New Year.