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The Best Shows to Watch From Now Until New Year’s Eve

Christmas Eve
There is only one way to kick off the Christmas weekend: with a ridiculously early children’s movie. Pixar’s new film, Encanto, on Disney+ from 8am, tells the story of the Madrigals, a family who must save their Colombian hometown when the local magic begins to fade.

From one Disney film to another: Frozen (1.30pm, BBC One) starts the afternoon festivities, though anyone hoping for a more mature watch can tune into the classic It’s A Wonderful Life (2pm, Channel 4). If your Christmas Eve plans are still intact, now is the perfect time for a disco nap and wake up just in time to watch Will Ferrell’s star turn as Buddy the Elf in Elf (5.05pm, Sky Showcase).

At 6pm, Shaun the Sheep gets involved in festive high jinks in The Flight Before Christmas (BBC One), as young Timmy gets lost when the flock raids the farmhouse for Christmas decorations.

Fans of Aardman animations might also enjoy Robin Robin (streaming now, Netflix), a delightful film about a young bird raised by a family of mice, who sets out to learn how to fly.

For those who like to stick with what they know at Christmas, Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister is thwarting robbers in a series of escalating pranks in Home Alone (6pm, Channel 4).

The new shows kick off from 7pm on Sky Max with The Amazing Mr Blunden, a remake of the beloved 1972 movie. Directed by and starring Mark Gatiss, with Simon Callow as Mr Blunden, the time-travelling adventure follows two teenagers who get a job as caretakers of an old house… only to find out it’s haunted.

At 7.55pm on More4, join former The One Show presenter Matt Baker at his family farm in the Durham Dales in Our Christmas in the Dales. The cold weather can be tough on the resident animals – but the Bakers are intent on making the farm look as jolly as possible.

Just when you think the competition format had been stretched beyond belief, along comes The Greatest Snowman (8pm, Channel 4), in which a group of celebrities compete in three snow-building and ice-sculpting challenges. Yes, really. Johnny Vegas, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Dani Dyer, Liam Charles and Cherry Healey as they try to prove their skills in the snow.

If you’re finding it’s “snow fun” halfway through, flick over to BBC One at 8.30pm for Top Gear: Driving Home For Christmas. Paddy McGuinness, Freddie Flintoff and Chris Harris gift each other cars in their Secret Santa to deliver a Christmas tree to the Top Gear Winter Wonderland.

Can’t get enough of the banter? At 9pm on ITV, father-and-son duo Bradley and Barney Walsh travel to Iceland for a special of Breaking Dad.

As for evening movies, the schedules are a little light on anything new, so head over to Netflix where Adam McKay’s latest, Don’t Look Up, premieres today. It is a star-studded affair as Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, Jonah Hill and Chris Evans appear alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, who play astronomers intent on warning a disinterested world about a meteor headed to Earth.

As has become tradition over the past few years, BBC Two rounds off Christmas Eve with a ghost story. An adaptation of MR James’s novel of the same name, The Mezzotint has Rory Kinnear as Edward Williams, a university professor and unwitting recipient of a mysterious engraving of a house with rather spooky qualities…

Christmas Day
Those woken early by the pitter-patter of thunderous feet and rending of wrapping paper will be pleased to hear that Peter Rabbit 2 is streaming from the morning on Now and available to buy on Sky Cinema for anyone without a subscription. How To Train Your Dragon starts at 11am (Channel 4), too, so they should be distracted for long enough for you to make some breakfast.

For a more sophisticated wake-up, Pope Francis is on Netflix to host Stories of a Generation. As well as sharing his own (mostly non-denominational) life lessons, he also shares the stage with a host of contributors over the age of 70, who have stories and wisdom of their own to tell. Expect some familiar faces, including film director Martin Scorsese.

The first of two new animations arrives at 2.30pm (BBC One), when Julia Donaldson’s Superworm is brought to life. When Superworm (Matt Smith) is kidnapped by the Wizard Lizard, it falls to his best friend, Butterfly, to rescue him.

Stick with BBC One for The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast at 3pm, followed by Emily Blunt’s glorious turn in 2018’s joyful Mary Poppins Returns (3.10pm). The Banks children are all grown up, but when Michael’s (Ben Whishaw) wife dies, his old nanny arrives to give his own children a spoonful of sugar.

Alternatively, Chicken Run (3.50pm, ITV2) – about a coop of chickens on a mission not to become pie filling – is a good family favourite.

Quentin Blake – The Drawing of My Life (4.10pm, BBC Two) ushers in the post-Christmas lunch programming. The illustrator – best known for his work with children’s author Roald Dahl – charts his illustrious (pun intended) career by drawing his most famous characters and defining moments on a blank canvas. Engrossing and meditative all at once, this is a true treat for the generations who grew up with Blake’s work.

Just one week after Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice took home the 2021 Glitterball trophy, Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman return to the floor for the annual Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special (5.10pm, BBC One). Adrian Chiles, Fred Sirieix, Mel Giedroyc, Moira Stewart, Anne-Marie and Jay Blades are the six celebrities hoping to impress.

Terry Pratchett’s The Abominable Snow Baby, meanwhile, bowls into an unsuspecting village in an adorable animation (Channel 4, 7.30pm).

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas Day without a little drama in the Woolpack, Rovers or Queen Vic. Emmerdale starts at 7pm on ITV, followed by Coronation Street at 8pm, while over on BBC One, EastEnders is on a little later than usual at 9.35pm.

For those who have somehow not had enough food today, The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4, 8pm), invites the cast of It’s a Sin show off their culinary skills in the famous tent.

Call the Midwife (8pm, BBC One) starts its 11th series with a festive special and Miriam Margolyes’s Mother Mildred is back at Nonnatus House to mark the occasion. It is the midwives’ “busiest Christmas Day ever”, but there is still some joy to be found among the chaos as Lucille and Cyril plan their wedding.

As the evening progresses, it becomes more and more likely that your tone-deaf family members will start to think carols are a good idea. A Musical Family Christmas with the Kanneh-Masons (8.35pm, BBC Two) will either dissuade them or encourage a mass singalong, as the talented siblings perform a mix of Christamas classics and Afro-Caribbean hits from their home in Nottingham.

After enjoying a return to television earlier this year, The Larkins (previously of Darling Buds of May fame) are back with a Christmas special (9pm, ITV).

If you are keen to settle down for a film you could do worse than Second World War comedy Their Finest (9.35pm, BBC Four), which follows a group of filmmakers hired by the British government to create propaganda films to keep the nation’s spirits up.

One to watch when the more delicate family members have bid goodnight, Jimmy Carr: His Dark Material is streaming on Netflix from Christmas Day, too. It features what the comic refers to as “career-ending jokes” – you have been warned.

Otherwise, it’s Mrs Brown’s Boys (10.20pm, BBC One) – the sitcom half the country hates with an unbridled passion while the other half can’t get enough. The latter group will be pleased to hear there are two seasonal specials on over the Christmas period. In the first, “Mammy’s Mechanical Merriment”, Brendan O’Carroll’s Agnes joins the church choir.

Boxing Day
I always need a bit of encouragement to start my Boxing Day morning and there is nothing better to put a pep in your step than Singin’ in the Rain (12.40pm, BBC Two) – though for those looking for something a little more up to date, try tick tick… Boom! (Netflix) and In the Heights (Now and Sky Cinema). Lin-Manuel Miranda can do no wrong.

The movies continue into the afternoon, with everyone’s favourite marmalade-mad bear, Paddington, on BBC One at 4.20pm. Straight after at 5.50pm, David Tennant makes his debut as famous explorer Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. The Broadchurch actor has promised a “romp” of a series and in this double premiere Fogg travels to a riotous Paris alongside his valet, Passepartout, and journalist Abigail “Fix” Fortescue.

There is Death in Paradise at 7.30pm (BBC One), and maybe even murder on the dance floor, as a new batch of celebrities not necessarily known for their singing prowess hit the stage of All Star Musicals at Christmas (8pm, ITV). West End royalty Elaine Paige OBE, Samantha Barks and Trevor Dion Nicholas will judge whether Fern Britton, Ben Miller, Gyles Brandreth, Anita Rani, Catherine Tyldesley and Radzi Chinyanganya have what it takes.

Speaking of show-stopping performances, Dirty Dancing starts at 8pm on Channel 5.

For a more action-filled movie option, James Gunn’s bombastic take on The Suicide Squad is streaming on Now and Sky Cinema from today, though it’s more one to watch when there are no impressionable little ones around.

Anyone who feels let down by the gifts they received may find comfort in All I Want(ed) for Christmas (8pm, Channel 4), in which a host of famous faces remember the toys and presents they wish they had received as children.

Perhaps the most exciting drama of the season is A Very British Scandal (9pm, BBC One). Claire Foy, best known for playing the Queen in the first two series of The Crown, takes on the role of the Duchess of Argyll, who was crucified in the press during her very public and sensationalised divorce from her husband, the Duke of Argyll (Paul Bettany). An examination of the sexism and patriarchal pressures of life in the public eye, this is one not to miss.

Less scandalously, Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse are on another mission to catch salmon in Gone Christmas Fishing (9pm, BBC Two), joined by former footballer Paul Gascoigne along the Eden and Tyne rivers.

Between her new album, 30, and her ITV special, Adele is inescapable at the moment. The BBC Sessions (10pm, BBC Two) looks back at all the performances she has treated the Beeb to over the years, starting with her 2007 appearance on Later… with Jools Holland, when she sang “Daydreamer” from her debut record, 19.

New Year’s Eve
With parties more or less cancelled, New Year’s Eve television has gained importance not experienced since, well, last year’s wash-out. Netflix got the memo, at least, and has two new treats for us.

The Queer Eye boys – Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, Bobby Berk, Antoni Porowski and Karamo Brown – are back with a sixth season of their tear-jerking makeover show. This time, they are in Austin, Texas.

A much less wholesome and much more nail-biting watch comes in the form of Stay Close, the latest Harlan Coben novel to be adapted for the streaming service. Starring James Nesbitt, Cush Jumbo and Richard Armitage, the thriller follows a seemingly disparate people whose lives collide when they discover a chilling secret from a mutual friend.

If you’re struggling to get into a celebratory mood, Pixar’s Coco (2.40pm, BBC One) might help – the music is completely infectious and will have you dancing in no time.

For a more sober watch, the festive final of University Challenge airs at 8.30pm on BBC Two. Jeremy Paxman is followed by the television premiere of 2019 movie The Aftermath (9pm, BBC Two), which stars Keira Knightley as Rachael, the wife of a British colonel who has been sent to Hamburg to aid the post-Second World War reconstruction of the city, and begins an affair with the German man who previously owned the house they are assigned to (Alexander Skarsgard).