I Watched Every Disney Channel Holiday Special So You Don’t Have To

Picture this: it’s December 2010, 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST, and “Fa-La-La-La Days” on Disney Channel has once again made its return. If you were fancy, you might’ve pre-recorded the holiday episode reruns from years past. There was something so festive about a break in a show’s usual plot for a holiday special, or the commercial breaks where actors would share their holiday plans. I haven’t had cable in years, so I’m not sure if this is still a thing, but Disney+ graciously has every available holiday episode in one, neat row. Now, the questions you may ask are: where do I begin? Which order should I watch them in? Why is this more stressful than Black Friday Shopping? Have no fear, though, as I took the liberty of rewatching every Disney Channel holiday special so you don’t have to. I will name my top three favorites, a couple of runner-ups, and episodes you really just shouldn’t revisit. I’m making the list, but you don’t have to check it twice. Just relax, make some hot cocoa, and be ready to be transported back to your childhood.

Now, I must preface that there is a worthy amount of cringe-worthy moments in some of these episodes. One episode that I didn’t remember being quite as cheesy when I first watched it as a lowly 10-year-old was “Jingle it Up,” the holiday special for Season 2 of “Shake it Up.” While it unfortunately did not make my top three, I still recommend you watch it — just be prepared to ask yourself if you ever truly thought Flynn was singing Ave Maria.

For my top three episodes, I will start with bronze. Crossover episodes always made them favorites, but Christmas crossover episodes? That might be life-altering. The crossover between “Good Luck Charlie” and “Jessie” in 2013 was a cultural reset. I can’t say it was my absolute favorite, which is why it got third place, but the hour-long episode is full of jokes, dramatic plot twists (c’mon, Sky, PJ just wants to be with you!) and it was nice to watch it after so long. If you didn’t watch either show, though, this may not be the episode for you — because unlike most holiday specials, it still followed the overarching plot of both shows instead of making a different one. 

“The Proud Family” aired the year I was born, so I didn’t grow up waiting weekly for the next episode. However, I remembered seeing the episode “Seven days of Kwanzaa” as a rerun, and now I believe it had some of the best values of the holiday season out of the episodes I watched. It was a close second, and honestly could be tied with first. Not only do we see what the holidays should be about — helping out those who are less fortunate than us — but also we get an episode dedicated to learning about a holiday other than Christmas, as alluded to in the episode title (and you have to love how the sass from Suga Mama moves the plot along). 

Gold, in all honesty, will probably always go to “Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation,” their holiday episode of Season 2. This one came out in December 2009, three weeks before I moved away from a life I was growing comfortable in. I remember watching it for the first time on my very-2000’s princess TV and becoming enthralled with the storyline: What happens when a whole town is on the naughty list? Even now, a whole 13 years later, there is something magical about this episode and how everyone comes together to fix the wrong. The innovative minds of Phineas and Ferb take the classic “let’s help Santa save Christmas!” plotline and revamps it into an unforgettable special that everyone should watch at least once in their life. We get not one, not two, but three inventions from the classic step-brothers. Also, I forgot how much I loved “Santa’s Helpers” and their sarcasm, so if you watch for nothing else, watch for the little elf with the stylish mustache. 

Okay, I know I said crossovers instantly make an episode better, but one episode I believe you can go without watching this holiday is the one between “Jessie” and “Austin & Ally.” It isn’t terrible, but honestly, the song at the beginning was the best part. The whole conflict of Trish accidentally calling a pizza place instead of Times Square is just a little too cringe-worthy, even for Disney Channel. But also, there are plot holes: the fact that his opening song is at a mall with only a few onlookers and is meant to be a set, but yet at this point in the show he is already viral and good enough to be booked at Times Square (after the whole mix-up is resolved) doesn’t add up. Maybe I read a little too much into this one, but there were a lot of contradictions that I found myself pausing the show to contemplate them more than I found myself watching.

The last episode I would say is probably good to skip is “Bizaardvark”’s “Agh, Humbug.” I will say, there may be a bias here because I stopped watching a lot of Disney Channel shows after we got rid of cable — which was before this show aired — so there may be context that I am missing that skews my perception. I apologize to any fans of this show in advance. I didn’t realize Olivia Rodrigo was in this — or Jake Paul, for what it’s worth — so it was interesting seeing her acting outside of  “American Girl” and “High School Musical: The Musical, The Series.” A reason this episode can be put on the back burner in my opinion came within the first three minutes. The plot of the episode starts with a school-wide Secret Santa, however, the age-old joke of Gen-Z being glued to their phones has now resulted in just a school-wide “Santa,” because the students wouldn’t be able to keep a secret. And then there is a guy with a horse mask on — if anyone has watched this, please let me know if he is a recurring character; I don’t have the heart to binge the show. 

All of that to say, I want to end on a cheery — maybe cheesy — note. No matter how much I cringed at some of these episodes, the nostalgia of watching them in preparation for Christmas had me feeling North Carolina cold in sunny San Diego (so did the wind advisory, but that is a different story). I wanted to go buy hot chocolate mix and put on my pug Christmas socks. Time isn’t slowing down, but I feel like I got a taste of that childhood festive spirit with this challenge I put on myself. Whatever holiday you celebrate this winter season, I encourage you to revisit something you might have done as a child, and reflect on how it is different now that you are older. I hope you check out the episodes I highlight, and possibly even the ones I don’t! But please, whatever you do, stop with the fruit cake — Disney needs a new food to hate on.

Art by Allen Chen for The UCSD Guardian.

One thought on “I Watched Every Disney Channel Holiday Special So You Don’t Have To

  1. I honestly don’t see why more people haven’t done this given that I work two shifts, two during the day and two during the evening. And I surely received a $29,000 check. Being able to work from ac63 home allows me to spend more time with my children, which is wonderful.
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