Wait, what? The best Christmas special of all time? Them’s fighting words, but it’s my opinion that A Muppet Family Christmas is the perfect holiday TV special.
A Muppet Family Christmas first aired on December 16, 1987, on ABC and is about the Muppets heading to Fozzie’s mother’s Farmhouse for Christmas. It’s the only production to feature the Muppets, Sesame Street, the Muppet Babies, and Fraggle Rock.
With all due respect to Rudolph and Frosty, I believe we completely overlook this special.
A lot of this has to do with its limited air time, and that many people missed it. If this special aired year after year, I believe it would have cemented itself as a yearly TV classic.
The Muppets seem to go through ebbs and flows of popularity, and I think that has something to do with it. I think one of the peaks was The Great Muppet Caper, which you can read about here.
The Muppets Christmas Carol is a holiday movie classic, but the TV special got sort of pushed to the side.
But let’s look back on what makes A Muppet Family Christmas so great
The Plot of A Muppet Family Christmas
Let’s check out a trailer for this.
The whole Muppet gang is traveling to Fozzie’s mother’s farmhouse to surprise her for the holidays. Little do they know that she is off to California to get away for Christmas. She has rented out the farmhouse to our favorite Fraggle human: Doc. And his dog, Sprocket.
They surprise her and she ends up screwed out of her trip. So does Doc for his quiet, simple Christmas. We find out that Miss Piggy will be coming up late to the Farmhouse, and we get a running joke about a turkey who has been invented by the Swedish Chef to be the Christmas dinner.
The Sesame Street gang arrives by song, which creates more pandemonium—partly because of an icy patch at the front door—and the space limitations in the farmhouse.
A blizzard hits that forces the Muppets to stay inside and causes havoc for Piggy trying to get there. We see an old family movie of the Muppet Babies, and Fozzie starts a two-man show with a snowman that’s come to life.
Kermit, and his nephew Robin, find a Fraggle hole and make their way underground to Fraggle Rock (just ignore how Fraggle Rock is underneath this Farmhouse and not Doc’s house. Unless he lives close by. But then he wouldn’t have probably left that area for his quiet Christmas).
The storm finally clears, and Piggy has made her way to the farmhouse in grand style. The show ends with the Muppets annual carol sing and we get an appearance by Jim Henson at the very end.
Production of A Muppet Family Christmas
Little did I know that this special was filmed about 90 minutes away from me in Toronto. This is just like another Muppet classic: Follow That Bird.
ABC ended up re-airing the following year on December 2, 1988. But the show has gone through a lot of edits over the years. We first saw it on CBC here in Canada and had it taped on VHS. That tape got lost over the years, but we eventually owned it on home video—but it was not as I had remembered.
A lot of edits happened to the home video version due to copyright issues regarding the music. Here are some changes that happened to the home release compared to the original broadcast:
- They cut the scene with Fozzie and the Snowman
- The entire Muppet Babies scene is edited out of the home video release which is a travesty. It has to do with the musical rights to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
- In the original broadcast, when Miss Piggy arrives by sled, all the Muppets sing “Home for the Holidays” before Piggy walks in and wipes out on the icy patch. In the home video version, this is edited because of music rights and the scene just cuts to the Muppets carol time.
- “I heard the Bells,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” are cut from the caroling scene
- A fireplace scene between Fozzie and his mother is cut
- For some reason, a 5-second scene of Fozzie decorating the tree with a then-unknown Elmo is cut
So now let’s look at the 6 reasons why I believe it’s the best TV Christmas special ever.
1. A Muppet Family Christmas is the Ultimate Crossover
With all due respect to The Avengers, The Muppet Family Christmas takes the crossover to the next level. Not only do you have the Muppets, but Sesame Street, the Muppet Babies, and Fraggle Rock.
This was one of the few times when you saw these four unique properties together in one event. This never occurred to me, but looking back—they introduce each Muppet franchise every 15 minutes.
It starts with the Muppets, of course, then introduces Sesame Street, then the Muppet Babies, and finally Fraggle Rock. We’ve seen different combinations of all these properties over the years, but never all combined together like this in one event.
It’s the perfect showcase of each one and shows what makes each special and unique. In 1987, each of these properties was reaching their peak. Every kid in the 80s loved Sesame Street, The Muppet Babies, and Fraggle Rock.
When you look back now, it creates even more nostalgia to see all four of these beloved entities combined together in a one-hour special.
The Muppets and Sesame Street had a lot of crossovers, but we got a lot of connection in A Muppets Family Christmas we had never seen before. The obvious is the Fraggle/Muppet connection which was unique to see, but then scenes combining Big Bird and the Swedish Chef are just as special.
2. The Music is Amazing
A Muppet Family Christmas features an amazing 23 different Christmas songs. Music has always been at the core of the Muppets, and A Muppet Family Christmas is a perfect showcase of this.
I dare argue that the Muppet performers sing some of these classic Christmas songs better than the originals. Some standout songs include:
- We Need a Little Christmas
- Jingle Bell Rock
- Here We Come A-Caroling
- Home For the Holidays
There’s also the great Muppets carol to close out the show. Many of these classics I now associate with the Muppets from watching this special so much growing up.
3. It Was One of Jim Henson’s Last Muppet Appearances
Henson sadly passed away a few years later, and this was one of the last things he ever appeared on regarding the Muppets. He of course has a cameo at the end of the special when he and Sprocket wash all the dishes while the Muppets continue to sing.
He would have the Jim Henson Hour that aired in 1989 where he performed Kermit, but I don’t think there’s any appearance of himself. His very last public appearance would be on the Arsenio Hall Show, where he was the guest but also performed Kermit in front of the audience.
This appearance was on May 4, 1990, only two weeks before his death.
But, we can consider A Muppet Family Christmas his last actual Muppet appearance, and this makes this special even more unique and significant.
4. A Muppet Family Christmas Gets Better With Time
We all need nostalgia. This is one of the big appeals to Christmas, as it lets us remember the past so fondly. With the Muppets Christmas Special, you get the memory of those warm Christmas feelings, but of the Muppets at their best.
You also get the glorious reminders of Sesame Street—which everyone grew up on—along with Fraggle Rock, which again, everyone watched growing up. The more time passes, the more we cherish content like this.
We had it on VHS taped off of CBC when it first came out and watched that copy for years. We then got the VHS release, and then the DVD when it came out—but they of course are lacking compared to the original aired special.
Luckily, you can find some pretty decent copies on YouTube. I even saw one that was ripped straight from a VHS television recording of it, which is just awesome. It even has the tracking lines in it as the picture adjusts. If you can find a copy that has the original commercials in it from 1987—well that’s just the pinnacle of Christmas entertainment.
If you want another interesting story about a classic TV Christmas special, check out my article about Rudolph: A 1980s Classic from the 60s.
5. It’s Actually Funny
Everything is funny when you’re a kid. The jokes in A Muppets Family Christmas were perfect for my age range—and hopefully yours—when you first watched it. But it still holds up. The running gag of the Muppets slipping on the icy patch is still funny.
Seeing Miss Piggy wipe out after her majestic entrance still makes me laugh, even though I’ve seen it so many times. The parts with the Swedish Chef are just as funny now, as is every part with Piggy trying to get back to the farmhouse. She’s the butt of the joke so often, and hearing her scream as she’s blown away by the storm is just as funny now.
The performances—and commitment—by the Muppet performers are just extraordinary. To make these pieces of felt come to life and have a personality is pretty astounding. To be able to get us to laugh at the physical humor is really incredible when you think of what you are actually walking.
It’s a testament to the writing, performance, and execution of the jokes to be able to pull this humor off so well.
6. It’s All About Family
Family has always been at the core of everything to do with the Muppets. There was nothing more important to Jim Henson than family—and he made sure to share this through many of his productions.
What makes A Muppet Family Christmas standout is that they devote the whole thing to them being together as a family. In the special, there are no celebrity cameos—or overtly obvious pop culture references—and this makes it stand out.
I love the Muppets, but they have often relied on the cheap and easy celebrity cameo to make that specific production standout.
There’s none of that here. I think this is what makes it feel so family-centered, warm, and inviting. They’re not trying to capitalize on whatever craze is most popular at the moment and the celebrity de jour, which has been one of their downfalls in the past.
A Muppet Family Christmas celebrates the love of family and how being together is more important than anything. It’s about the importance of tradition and keeping alive the memories of the past. Not bad for a bunch of felt.
Wrapping it Up
So that’s a look back on A Muppets Family Christmas: the greatest Christmas TV special ever. This is of course my opinion—but I stand by it. As I said, I can’t go a year without watching it, and it may be required viewing during your holiday too.
There were a few years where I had forgotten all about it, as during a pre-YouTube era—and with the VCR long gone—there wasn’t any way to watch it. This isn’t a special that aired year after year like Rudolph or Frosty, so it was hard to build that sustained audience.
Despite this, TV Guide ranked it 8th on its top ten list of best Family holiday specials.
It was also tough for it to find a new audience through the different generations. My nieces and nephew now love it only because my sister and I introduced it to them. A lot of kids today don’t even know what a Muppet is, so this is a Christmas special that has been lost to time.
But if you’re a fan—you know why it’s so great. If you have never watched it for whatever reason—take this time to check it out, and see why it is such a significant part of holiday entertainment.
To me, A Muppet Family Christmas has more love, spirit, family, warmth, and tradition than any other Christmas special I can think of. Watching it feels like being wrapped in a blanket made of cocoa.