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SYFY WIRE The Muppets

Every Muppet Holiday Special, ranked

The Muppets have been making merry for the holidays for 50 years. 

By Tara Bennett
John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979) GETTY

For many families around the globe, as soon as the crisp end of the year weather sweeps in, it's time for the cocoa to come out, blankets to go on laps, and to queue up favorite comfort holiday specials to ring in the seasonal vibes. Jim Henson was a huge proponent of the feelings represented in this time of year: love, peace and comfort to our sometimes weary souls. Because of that, for 50 years, Henson's Muppet creations have starred in an amazing array of bespoke specials that have since become beloved annual watching traditions.

In case you aren't aware of what's out there to watch, SYFY WIRE has collected and ranked the winter/Christmas Henson specials so you can make a Muppet marathon of your own this season.

9. Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular (2013)

A match made in music diva heaven, Miss Piggy meets her costume and theatrical match in real-life Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular is perhaps the oddest album drop promo ever as the special showcases musical numbers from ARTPOP. The standout pieces are the Muppet crew talking direct to camera about their favorite holiday memories which run the gamut from sweet to very unexpected. Plus, Fozzie's brown paper bag puppet debut is a thing to behold.

8. Rocky Mountain Holiday (1983)

A sequel to the John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, this special recaptures the sweet, special chemistry between singer John Denver and The Muppet troupe. A very different take on a holiday special, it's the most non-denominational of the collection and is more of a celebration of nature and song. Set in the wilds of Colorado, there are a lot of campfire sing-alongs to old country standards like "Happy Trails" and "Home on the Range." Plus, Miss Piggy looking extra and fabulous on horseback flirting next to Denver is something everyone needs to see.

7. Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree (1995)

Did you know Robert Downey Jr. starred in a Muppets holiday special? Based on Robert Barry's 1963 book of the same name, Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, Downey Jr. plays an eccentric gentleman celebrating the holiday. A super-cute family of Muppet mice stowaway inside the limbs of a tree he brings into his home to decorate and they learn all about holiday from Leslie Nielsen, Stockard Channing, and the future Iron Man. There's some awkward singing and dancing throughout but it's a sweet story. Plus, Kermit gets to look extra dapper in top hat and tails tuxedo for the big party.

6. The Christmas Toy (1986)

If Toy Story's premise seemed familiar when it came out, that's because The Muppets did playroom toys coming to life first with The Christmas Toy. Rugby Tiger is the toy remembering how he came to the playroom the previous Christmas and wants to recapture the magic by sneaking back into a box again this year. A full-out musical with five original songs performed by Muppet performer greats like Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, and Kathryn Mullen, among others, this special has a wonderful magic of the season vibe and message about the toys that define our childhoods. Plus, Kermit introduces this one and gets to wear a Santa suit.

5. A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008)

The most New York-centric Muppets project since The Muppets Take Manhattan, this one-hour special finds the Muppets running around in prep for a big group vacation outside of the city. When they accidentally intercept letters meant to go to Santa, the gang circles up to get them to the North Pole in time. This one has a lot of celebrity cameo appearances from New York entertainers and even then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Plus, frequent Muppet songwriter Paul Williams provides four new songs and a cameo appearance.

4. The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970)

The Great Santa Claus Switch is the Henson holiday special that started it all. An idea that was developed for almost a decade by Jim Henson and longtime Muppet project writer Jerry Juhl, it came to be because Ed Sullivan decided to produce it due to the success of the Muppet appearances on his variety show. The story has comedy legend Art Carney playing three roles in a diabolical plan to kidnap Santa Claus so thieves can rob homes of gifts around the world. It boasts the entire classic Muppet performer lineup, including Henson, Frank Oz, Richard Hunt and more, with the added surprise of Ed Sullivan narrating. Plus, we get the earliest appearance of the puppet who will become Gonzo on The Muppet Show, introduced as Snarl in this special.

3. John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)

If you're Gen X, there's a good chance your family had a copy of John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together on vinyl, or the songs invaded your brain via the radio as it was played during the holiday season. The special itself is a bit lost to current generations because it's not on streaming, but back in the day this mix of John Denver with The Muppets became an instant classic. Denver was the perfect, gentle straight man for The Muppets' antics, and when their voices meet, it's holiday magic. Plus, this features the origin of The Muppet version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" ... "five goooold rings, ba dum bum bum!"

2. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

An original one-hour musical based on the Russell Hoban book of the same name, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas features original songs from Paul Williams, direction by Jim Henson and some of the most memorable and lovable characters to grace any of the Henson specials. Essentially a retelling of "The Gift of the Magi" story with puppet woodland creatures, the special centers on Emmet and Ma Otter, who may be poor in the pocket but are rich in spirit as they navigate life on the river near Frogtown Hollow. Using their voices to try to win a local talent show to buy gifts for one another, the story has unexpected twists and turns, an angry prog band, and some of the best holiday music around.

1. A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)

Truly the Henson creation crossover that no one expected, A Muppet Family Christmas is filled to the gils with characters from just about every iteration of Jim's brain up to that point. The story revolves around Kermit, Fozzie and The Muppet Show gang heading to Ma Bear's house in the country for Christmas. She's off to Malibu and hires Fraggle Rock's Doc and Sprocket to housesit. A huge storm keeps Ma in the house as the guest count explodes to include Sesame Street characters, Fraggles, and even a Muppet Babies cameo. Plus, we get to see Jim Henson in an apron drying dishes.