Christmastime in modern-day America celebrates a holy trinity of a secular kind, too.
That would be '60s television's terrific trio of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Strangely enough, these animated specials premiered in consecutive years - 1964, '65 and '66.
Nearly five decades later, they remain the top three must-see Christmas shows, followed by festive films that unreel annually - "It's a Wonderful Life," now more than 60 years old, and that relative newcomer from the '80s, "A Christmas Story."
Holiday-themed series repeats are cool, too, but like 21st century viewership, these vintage faves are spread all over the map from family antics to serious stories.
New episodes are a different treat, finding out what fresh holiday territory they'll try to cover.
Holiday TV choices multiply every year, but we're here to help. Count on Newsday to find you the best in Christmas, Hanukkah and other seasonal shows. Check our daily highlights and Saturday's weekly Off the Wall roundups.
To make things even easier, here's our pick of this year's 25 hottest TV holiday offerings.
(Your favorite not here? Consult Diane Werts' extended holiday listings at tvworthwatching.com.)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Tuesday at 8 p.m., CBS/2) - Folk singer Burl Ives narrates this 1964 pioneer of stop-motion animation, seasonal songs and Christmas tube tradition. Try to conjure the flashback feeling of how truly "special" this hour was when it premiered in a three-network universe.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Tuesday at 8 p.m., ABC/7) - Dr. Seuss joined forces with Hollywood cartoon king Chuck Jones for this 1966 musical half-hour, slyly narrated by Boris Karloff. Followed at 8:30 by "Shrek the Halls." ("Grinch" also airs on Cartoon Network Dec. 9, 12, 13, 15, 18, 20 and 22.)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (Dec. 7 and 16 at 8 p.m., ABC/7) - There's memorable music here, too (from jazz great Vince Guaraldi), but this 1965 half-hour with Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters charms with its quiet respect for the holiday's "true meaning." (Hour airing includes new animated short "Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa.")
Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol: Collector's Edition (new Blu-ray/DVD combo, $20, Classic Media/Vivendi) - This rarely shown 1962 hour is actually TV's first animated Christmas musical special. It's also an amazingly effective rendering of Dickens' Scrooge tale, straightforwardly told with songs from Broadway's Jule Styne and Bob Merrill ("Funny Girl").
It's a Wonderful Life (Dec. 11 and 24 at 8 p.m., NBC/4) - James Stewart learns there's no place like home, and nothing like friends, in director Frank Capra's hard-edged yet heartwarming '40s portrait of a small-town man who fears he's failed in life. This onetime ubiquity now airs twice a season.
A Christmas Story (Dec. 24, every two hours, TBS) - Indiana kid Peter Billingsley yearns to get an air rifle for his snow-covered '40s Christmas gift. Humorist Jean Shepherd's reminiscence has holiday flavor galore, from buying the tree to visiting Santa to cooking the turkey.
A Christmas Carol (DVD or Blu-ray, $20 each, VCI) - Alastair Sim's definitive 1951 portrayal is now rarely sighted on TV. But it's out on disc in remastered glory, with extras. Also, newly released is George C. Scott's 1984 TV-movie "A Christmas Carol" on Blu-ray Disc ($30 Blu-ray/$15 DVD, Fox); Scott's Scrooge airs on Fox Movie Channel at 8 p.m. Dec. 13 and 25, and is available via digital cable on-demand.
Battle of the Bulbs (Dec. 18 at 8 p.m., Hallmark) - Neighbors Daniel Stern and Matt Frewer get into a decorating dogfight in this premiere TV-movie, the last of Hallmark Channel's 11 new festive films for 2010.
Christmas in Rockefeller Center (Tuesday at 8 p.m., NBC/4) - Mariah Carey headlines Manhattan's annual live tree-lighting ceremony, joined by Josh Groban, Sheryl Crow, Susan Boyle, Jessica Simpson, Annie Lennox, Kylie Minogue and Charice.
Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas to You (Dec. 13 at 9 p.m., ABC/7) - She's back! Harborfields' most famous voice is at L.A.'s Orpheum Theatre delivering tunes from her new holiday album. (She's on TNT's Dec. 17 special "Christmas in Washington," too, and ABC's Dec. 12 "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.")
Bing Crosby: The Television Specials/Vol. 2: The Christmas Specials (new on DVD, $30 list price, Infinity) - Seasonal music specials were once a TV tradition. These two discs hold four exemplary '60s-'70s hours, aired 1961-1977. The last one, shown after Crosby's death, features his famed "Little Drummer Boy" duet with glitter rocker David Bowie.
South Park (streaming at southparkstudios.com) - Discretion advised: "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics" (1999) hosts holiday numbers from the twisted adult cartoon, including a Santa-and-Jesus nightclub duet. Hanukkah song, too!
Raising Hope (Dec. 7 at 9 p.m., Fox/5) - Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman) and baby Hope headline the family's living Nativity, while the low-rent household's men sell hot toys.
Warehouse 13 (Dec. 7 at 10 p.m., Syfy) - Hanukkah gets a little love from this quirky curiosity shop, as Artie (Saul Rubinek) and his dad (Judd Hirsch) reunite for the Jewish holiday. There's also a malevolent Santa on the loose.
Community (Dec. 9 at 8 p.m., NBC/4) - Stop-motion animation depicts Abed's (Danny Pudi) obsession with Christmas, the meaning of which he aims to rediscover with Joel McHale's college study group.
Glee (Dec. 7 at 8 p.m., Fox/5) - Cheerleader Brittany (Heather Morris) still believes in Santa Claus? The producers clearly believe in something else - the sales potential of a "Glee" Christmas album (already available).
A Very Sunny Christmas (Dec. 16 at 10-11 p.m., FX) - It's a demented holiday for the denizens of the "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" bar, complete with stolen toys and naked elves. (New to TV; released last year on DVD/Blu-ray Disc.)
The Twilight Zone (Dec. 9 at 8 a.m., Syfy) - "Night of the Meek" (1960) stars Art Carney as a store Santa whose sack miraculously delivers people's most-desired presents.
M*A*S*H (late Dec. 11/early Dec. 12 at 4:30 a.m., TV Land) - Hawkeye writes about his Korean holiday-at-war in "Dear Dad" (1972).
Little House on the Prairie (Dec. 23 at 3 p.m., Hallmark) - Michael Landon's Ingalls family members sacrifice to give each other holiday gifts in their sentimental first-season "Christmas at Plum Creek" (1974).
Classic TV Christmas Collection (new on DVD, $35, warnerarchive.com) - Ten holiday episodes from the '60s to the '90s make their DVD debuts in this wide-ranging four-disc collection: rarities "Dr. Kildare" and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," plus "CHiPs," "Eight Is Enough," "Welcome Back, Kotter," "Alice," "Perfect Strangers,"" "Mama's Family," "Veronica's Closet," "Suddenly Susan."
The Jack Benny Program (broadband streaming) - This Christmas shopping classic began in '40s radio, was restaged for '50s live TV, and survives in 1960's filmed episode. Skinflint Benny tortures a sales clerk, imbued with suicidal brio by cartoon-voice king Mel Blanc. Streaming from Netflix (part of "The Jack Benny Collection"), Veoh and TV4U.com, among others.
The Real Story of Christmas (Tuesday at 8 p.m., History) - Find out how both sacred and secular symbols of Christmas originated, evolved and mutated in this new hour special.
The Yule Log (Christmas morning 9 a.m., WPIX/11) - Of course. Four hours of fireplace flames and seasonal sounds are followed at 1 p.m. by the traditional airing of Laurel and Hardy's 1934 feature "March of the Wooden Soldiers."