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Why A Garfield Christmas Deserves to Be a Holiday Staple Once Again

Let's take a look back at a forgotten holiday special that deserves a return to prominence.

By Matthew Jackson
Garfield and Odie sit in a car next to Jon who is driving with a backseat full of presents.

I experienced an unexpected moment of Christmas joy earlier this December when my sister texted me a photo of my three-year-old nephew sitting in the living room, watching A Garfield Christmas. It wasn't surprising that my nephew would be watching Christmas specials, or that my sister would know about the often-forgotten Garfield holiday adventure from the late 1980s, but it was pleasantly surprising that the two things would collide. My nephew, by virtue of the special showing up streaming on Peacock, had finally discovered something his mother, and his uncle, grew up loving. 

For a long time, that discovery wasn't impossible, but it was at least a little harder to come by. Though it's been floating around the internet for years, A Garfield Christmas hasn't aired regularly on broadcast TV since about the year 2000, which means that more than one generation of kids simply didn't have it in their rotation of seasonal favorites. Add in its scarcity on subscription streaming services, and it's been years since the special has been in the conversation when it comes to essential Christmas viewing.

Why A Garfield Christmas Deserves a Return to Holiday Season Prominence

That's a shame, one that I'm glad is getting corrected now that the special has found a streaming home. It's not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but even to new viewers, A Garfield Christmas plays like a warm hug of a Christmas comfort watch, and it's high time it became a seasonal staple once again. 

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Created and written by Garfield mastermind Jim Davis in 1987, A Garfield Christmas arrived in the heyday of traditional Garfield animation, after years of previous specials and just before the Garfield and Friends animated series (also streaming on Peacock) arrived the next year. The plot is wonderfully simple, one that any longtime consumer of Christmas specials can follow, and that kids can easily latch onto: Garfield (Lorenzo Music, still the definitive voice of the character) heads out with Jon (Thom Huge) and Odie (Gregg Berger) for a Christmas celebration on the Arbuckle family farm. There, we meet Jon's family, including his parents and his younger brother, and his sassy Grandma (Pat Carroll, also known for voicing Ursula in The Little Mermaid). 

Garfield sits on Jon who sits on a mechanical Santa seat.

Garfield is, predictably, over the whole Christmas thing. He just wants to stay in bed, eat food, and get presents without any regard for family or tradition or any of the trappings of the holiday. The trip to the farm is an inconvenience to him, but the longer he stays, the longer he starts to feel at home. Grandma, a born cat lover, helps with this, as does the sense of discovery that comes from being on the farm, and the surprising earnestness of the celebration around him. Naturally, this all leads to Garfield discovering what Christmas is all about, and softening as the special comes to an end. 

But the predictable plot isn't what makes A Garfield Christmas special. The animation, adapting the style of Davis' original comic strip like the other Garfield specials, is charming and warm, and makes great use of the snowscapes of the farm and the glow of the Arbuckle family Christmas tree to really inject a sense of comfort into your viewing experience. Then there are the family details, which range from a strange Arbuckle tradition involving a picture book about a clown to Grandma's attempts to covertly turn the sausage gravy into her own recipe. Some of it, like the Arbuckle's overabundance of food and the arguments over the right way to put up decorations, is stuff we all see coming, but the rest of it smacks of honest family Christmas life coming straight from Davis' heart. There's a sentiment and a sincerity that you can feel through the screen even now, after almost 40 years. In an age when franchise characters are often shoved into Christmas specials that feel more thrown together, it's a welcome experience.

So, whether it's been years since you've seen it, or you're coming to it for the first time, make A Garfield Christmas part of your holiday viewing this season. It's about time this special made a comeback.

A Garfield Christmas is now streaming on Peacock.

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