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Christmas TV Guide 2021: What’s on TV this Christmas? Our pick of the holiday listings
Your guide to what to watch this holiday season as we look at the best Christmas television, from evergreen entertainment shows to drama, comedy and film.
For all the convenience of catch-up TV and streaming services, Christmas viewing is all about making an appointment with your telly.
Whether it's entertainment traditions like the Strictly special, Christmas Day visits to soapland or fresh adaptations of old favourites, the festive season is the one time when the whole family can gather round the telly and enjoy the best shows together.
From December 21 right through to New Year's Day, we've picked out the programmes and movies we think you should be watching this Christmas, from dazzling dramas and entertainment essentials to the film premieres and classic movies we know you'll love. So get your highlighter out and happy Christmas viewing!
Tuesday December 21
Film: Saving Mr Banks (2013) – 2.45pm, BBC One
Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson star as movie mogul Walt Disney and author PL Travers in a heartwarming tale of how Mary Poppins went from children's book to the big screen.
The Goes Wrong Show: The Spirit of Christmas – 7pm, BBC One
Santa is coming to town with his elves to solve a little girl's Christmas woes, but as usual with the Goes Wrong team, the show isn't without its little hiccups.
Sarah Beeny's New Life in the Country at Christmas – 8pm, Channel 4
Sarah and family prepare for the festivities in their new home, building a winter wonderland tree house, making mead, and hosting a fiery outdoor party.
Amazing Spaces: George's Icelandic Adventure – 9pm, Channel 4
George Clarke and Will Hardie explore Iceland's amazing architecture, including a bauble-inspired treetop hotel room and geothermal baths.
Christmas Cruising with Susan Calman – 9pm, Channel 5
The Scottish comedian discovers Norway's stunning coastline in her first voyage since taking over from Jane McDonald. But will she give us a song?
Wednesday December 22
Pointless Christmas Special 2021 – 5.15pm, BBC One
Leslie Joseph, Louie Spence and Joe Pasquale are among the celebrity contestants seeking pointless answers in Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman's seasonal quiz.
The Great British Sewing Bee Celebrity Christmas Special - 8pm, BBC One
Sara Pascoe welcomes the Rev Kate Bottley, Antony Cotton, Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Anneka Rice to a Christmas Sewing Bee extravaganza (Part 2, 9pm, December 30).
The Hairy Bikers Go North for Christmas – 8pm, BBC Two
Si King and Dave Myers head back home to cook a festive feast for their families featuring turkey doner kebabs, gourmet marshmallows and a 21-ingredient Christmas pudding.
A Victorian Christmas - 9pm Channel 5
A modern family work their way through a 19th century Christmas to-do list while experts reveal the Victorian origins of some of our favourite traditions.
Thursday December 23
One Night In… The Natural History Museum – 9pm, Channel 4
Alex Brooker, Josh Widdicombe and friends spend the night at some of the UK's most exciting tourist attractions. (Also One Night In... London Zoo, 9pm, December 30)
Film Premiere: Last Christmas (2019) – 9pm, BBC Two
Romantic comedy starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding written by Emma Thompson and inspired by and featuring the music of Wham! and George Michael.
Not Going Out Christmas Special – 10pm, BBC One
Jason Donovan guest stars as himself in this panto-themed episode of the long-running sitcom which sees Lee play Buttons to Lucy's Cinderella and Hugh Dennis's Ugly Sister.
Top of the Pops : 1984 Big Hits - 10.35pm, BBC Two
Viewers of Last Christmas can enjoy more music from the year of the film's title track as well as songs from Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Nik Kershaw, Madonna and Black Lace.
22 Kids and Counting at Christmas – 11.25pm, Channel 5
The Radfords take their younger children on the ultimate Yuletide trip to Lapland, while the older kids give something back by serving dinner at a Morecambe homeless shelter.
Film Premiere: Abominable (2019) - 3pm, BBC One
After discovering a yeti, three friends embark on a quest to reunite the creature with his family. However, they must keep him safe from a zoologist who wants to capture him.
Film Premiere: Dolittle (2020) - 4.30pm, BBC One
Robert Downey Jr stars as the creature-conversing physician who heads off on a journey with his animal friends to find a cure for the Queen's life-threatening disease.
Unmissable Film Premieres
Last Christmas – 9pm, BBC Two, December 23
Abominable - 3pm, BBC One, Christmas Eve
Mary Poppins Returns – 3.10pm, BBC One, Christmas Day
Blade Runner 2049 - 9pm, BBC Two, December 27
A Star Is Born – 9pm, BBC One, December 29
Judy - 9pm, BBC Two, December 31
Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas – 6pm, BBC One
A farmhouse raid to get bigger stockings for the flock inadvertently leads to Timmy going missing. Can Shaun get Timmy back before he becomes someone else’s present?
Ball & Boe: Back Together – 6.10pm, Channel 5
West End singing stars Michael Ball and Alfie Boe share some of their favourite numbers including songs from The Lion King, The Greatest Showman and Phantom of the Opera.
Carols from King’s – 6.15pm, BBC Two
The choir of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, lead this Christmas Eve tradition in singing carols old and new alongside readings telling the story of the birth of Jesus.
The Greatest Snowman – 8pm, Channel 4
Johnny Vegas, Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen, Dani Dyer and Liam Charles are among the celebrities taking part in an epic snow-building competition hosted by Sue Perkins.
Top Gear: Driving Home for Christmas – 8.30pm, BBC One
Freddie, Chris and Paddy play 'car secret Santa' for a festive road trip across Britain, transporting a giant Christmas tree to Top Gear's very own winter wonderland.
Bradley and Barney: Breaking Dad at Christmas – 9pm, ITV
Dad's gone to Iceland, and he's taken son Barney with him! The Walshes take their RV to the land of glaciers and geysers to find Christmas joy amid terrifying challenges.
Christmas comes early on ITV
If you do miss any of the programmes on this page, most will be available to watch on the usual catch-up services - BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 - and of course on BT TV.
ITV, however, will be feeding the early birds by making its top programmes, including Coronation Street, Emmerdale, The Larkins and entertainment specials available on ITV Hub from 7am on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
All Creatures Great and Small – 9pm, Channel 5
It’s Christmas in Darrowby, and Helen and James realise they haven’t agreed on where they’re spending Christmas Day. Meanwhile, Tristan reveals some important news.
8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown Christmas Special – 9.30pm, Channel 4
Jon Richardson and Sarah Millican take on Lee Mack and Jason Manford in a special Christmas edition of the words-and-numbers game hosted by Jimmy Carr.
Spitting Image: Christmas Special – 10pm, ITV
Tom Cruise steps up to save Christmas for Santa, Phoebe Waller-Bridge adds a bit of flair to the Queen's speech and Rishi Sunak is visited by the Ghost of Tory Glory Past.
Film Premiere: The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) – 1.10pm, BBC One
Animated sequel finds Jack Russell terrier Max on a trip to the country, where a sheepdog voiced by Harrison Ford teaches him life skills which prove invaluable back in the city.
The Queen – 3pm, BBC One & ITV
Her Majesty offers her Christmas wishes and personal reflections on the year gone by in her first Christmas message since the death of her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip.
Film Premiere: Mary Poppins Returns (2018) – 3.10pm, BBC One
Emily Blunt is the 'practically perfect' nanny who returns to help the grown-up Banks children save their family home from the clutches of corrupt banker Wilkins (Colin Firth).
Quentin Blake: The Drawing of My Life – 4.10pm, BBC Two
The illustrator who brought Roald Dahl's characters to life reflects on his 70-year career through a new artwork - a 30-foot-long canvas showing key moments from his life.
Best for Kids
Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas – 6pm, BBC One, Christmas Eve
Superworm – 2.30pm, BBC One, Christmas Day
Terry Pratchett’s Abominable Snow Baby – 7.30pm, Channel 4, Christmas Day
Worzel Gummidge – 7.15pm, BBC One, December 28 & 29
The Alternative Christmas Message – 5pm, Channel 4
Channel 4's alternative to the Queen's Speech has aired on Christmas Day since 1993. Presenters have included Quentin Crisp, Neville and Doreen Lawrence and Danny Dyer.
Paul O’Grady: For The Love Of Dogs at Christmas – 5.30pm, ITV
The animal lover extraordinaire brings some Christmas spirit to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home by helping more adorable stray and abandoned pooches find a new forever home.
The Masked Singalong – 6pm, ITV
Joel Dommett hosts a one-off special of TV’s most surreal guessing game, reliving the best loved performances and incredible costumes from two series of The Masked Singer.
Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special – 7.10pm, BBC One
Moira Stuart, Adrian Chiles and Mel Giedroyc are among the celebrities performing festive foxtrots and seasonal sambas in this staple of Christmas Day entertainment.
Read more about the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special >
Terry Pratchett’s Abominable Snow Baby – 7.30pm, Channel 4
David Harewood, Julie Walters and Hugh Dancy lend their voices to this animated tale of how a 14-foot tall creature came to be loved by the town which once feared him.
Call the Midwife – 8pm, BBC One
Nonnatus House, filled with expectant mothers, is gearing up for its busiest Christmas Day ever, while Lucille and Cyril prepare for their upcoming winter wedding.
Coronation Street – 8pm, ITV
An hour-long visit to the Cobbles sees Fiz cancel her romantic holiday with Phill and a joint Christmas with the Barlows and Platts going about as well as can be expected.
The Great Christmas Bake Off 2021 – 8pm, Channel 4
It's A Sin cast members Olly Alexander, Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis and Shaun Dooley reunite in the tent to try to impress Prue and Paul with their Christmas-themed bakes.
The Larkins at Christmas – 9pm, ITV
A spate of burglaries overshadows the village panto, while chaos decends when a power cut strikes as Charley's parents meet Pop and Ma. Bradley Walsh and Joanna Scanlan star.
EastEnders – 9.30pm, BBC One
A double episode for a double wedding, but neither the course of true love nor Christmas ever did run smooth on Albert Square and Whitney plots to derail the celebrations.
Mrs Brown’s Boys – 10.20pm, BBC One
Dodgy cousin Mikey has turned up for Christmas aiming to con Granddad out of five grand, but Agnes - now a member of the church choir - sees through his scheme.
Film: Love Actually (2003) – 10.40pm, ITV
Richard Curtis's romantic comedy interweaving 10 tales of love and loss in the run-up to Christmas has become a modern classic that makes for a perfect end to Christmas Day.
Film: Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015) – 10.10am, BBC One
A feature-length outing for Aardman's mischievous sheep sees the flock travel to the city to bring the farmer back to Mossy Bottom - but an animal control worker has other ideas.
Film: Beauty and the Beast (2017) – 2.20pm, BBC One
Emma Watson is Belle and Dan Stevens her cursed captor in this live-action remake of Disney's 1991 animation. Co-stars Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson and Ewen McGregor.
Film: Paddington (2014) – 4.20pm, BBC One
After travelling from Darkest Peru to London, the marmalade-loving bear is taken in by the Browns but finds himself in danger when he meets a vengeful museum taxidermist.
Around the World in 80 Days – 5.50pm, BBC One
David Tennant plays Phileas Fogg alongside Ibrahim Koma and Leonie Benesch in thia eight-part adaptation of Jules Verne's classic tale of Victorian exploration.
Read more about the new BBC adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days >
The Perfect Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special – 6.10pm, BBC Two
All the best bits from Eric & Ernie's Christmas specials, with memorable appearances from Angela Rippon, Des O'Connor and Andre Previn. Watch classic comedy on BritBox >
Anything Goes: The Musical – 6.40pm, BBC Two
Sutton Foster, Robert Lindsay, Felicity Kendal and Gary Wilmot star in this critically acclaimed production of Cole Porter's musical comedy, filmed live at the Barbican.
Escape to the Chateau at Christmas – 7pm, Channel 4
Pay a special Christmas visit to the Strawbridges' restored Normandy chateau where Dick, Angel, Arthur and Dorothy are creating a glorious family celebration inspired by France.
Death in Paradise – 7.30pm, BBC One
After 10 years, the Caribbean whodunnit gets its first ever Christmas special. Ralf Little returns as Neville Parker while Juliet Stevenson and Matthew Baynton guest star.
All Star Musicals at Christmas – 8pm, ITV
Fern Britton, Ben Miller, Gyles Brandreth, Anita Rani, Catherine Tyldesley and Radzi Chinyanganya engage in a show-tunes sing-off hosted by John Barrowman.
A Very British Scandal – 9pm, BBC One
Claire Foy and Paul Bettany star in a three-part drama about the scandal surrounding the tumultuous, brutal and very public divorce of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll in 1963.
Big Fat Quiz of The Year – 9pm, Channel 4
Sarah Millican, James Acaster, Jonathan Ross, Judi Love and Guz Khan are among the celebrities joining host Jimmy Carr to look back over the turbulent last 12 months.
Billy Connolly: My Absolute Pleasure – 9.30, ITV
In this follow-up to 2020's It's Been A Pleasure, the Big Yin shows us around his Florida home, launches an autobiography and shares some of his favourite stand-up routines.
Monday December 27 – Bank Holiday
All Creatures Great and Small – 9pm, Channel 5, Christmas Eve
A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Mezzotint – 10.30pm, BBC One, Christmas Eve
Call the Midwife – 8pm, BBC One, Christmas Day
The Larkins at Christmas – 9pm, ITV, Christmas Day
Around the World in 80 Days – 5.50pm, BBC One, Boxing Day
A Very British Scandal – 9pm, BBC One, Boxing Day
Film: A Star Is Born (1954) – 10.05am, BBC Two
Judy Garland and James Mason star in the first remake of the tale of a doomed romance between a rising star and a fading legend. Watch the 2018 remake on BBC One, Dec 29.
Film: Calamity Jane (1953) – 1.55pm, BBC Two
Doris Day plays the rough, tough heroine and Howard Keel is Wild Bill Hickok in the musical that gave us The Deadwood Stage, The Windy City and The Black Hills of Dakota.
Film: Horrible Histories: The Movie (2019) – 3pm, BBC One
Terry Deary's much-loved series of books comes to the big screen with Rotten Romans, the tale of teenager Atti who leaves Rome for Britain after upsetting Emperor Nero.
Only Connect Christmas Special – 8pm, BBC Two
Victoria Coren Mitchell invites two teams from previous series - the cheese-loving Turophiles and the Corkscrews - back for an evening of cryptic Christmas quizzing.
Film Premiere: Blade Runner 2049 (2017) - 9pm, BBC Two
The sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 classic sees Harrison Ford reprise his role as Deckard, tracked down by Ryan Gosling's K who is seeking the truth about replicant reproduction.
Tuesday December 28 – Bank Holiday
Worzel Gummidge – 7.15pm, BBC One
Mackenzie Crook is the walking, talking scarecrow in first of two specials. Bird watchers come between Worzel and a flock of rare choughs (Part 2, 7.15pm, Dec 29, BBC One).
World's Strongest Man – 7pm, Channel 5
A Christmastide TV tradition sees 10 strongmen toss kegs, lift logs, push a train and carry those infamous Atlas stones to discover who is indeed the World's Strongest Man.
Extraordinary Escapes at Christmas with Sandi Toksvig – 8pm, Channel 4
Expect sumptuous seasonal food Scandi-style as Sandi and her guest explore wild, remote, and beautifully designed holiday digs, all offering Christmassy sanctuary.
Film Premiere: The Meg (2018) – 9pm, Channel 5
A giant shark - the megalodon - emerges from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to terrorise shipping in the Pacific. Jason Statham is the only man who can stop it...
Wednesday December 29
Film Premiere: Playing With Fire (2019) – 1.30pm, Channel 4
A workaholic California firefighter sees his career go up in smoke when he is forced to take care of three children rescued from a burning cabin. Family comedy with John Cena.
Frankie Boyle's New World Order 2021 – 10pm, BBC Two
Frankie Boyle and guests dissect the bewildering year that was 2021 through stand-up, review and discussion. Followed at 10.45pm by Unseen, new clips from the recent series.
Thursday December 30
Film Premiere: Judy (2019) – 9pm, BBC Two
Renée Zellweger won the Best Actress Oscar for playing Hollywood legend Judy Garland in the final year of her life as her health deteriorates and she looks back over her career.
Terry Wogan: Now You're Talking - 9pm, Channel 5
Almost six years after the death of the radio and TV host, this documentary remembers Wogan's career, from his best celebrity interviews to the cattiest Eurovision commentary.
Film Premiere: Ready Player One (2018) – 10.35pm, BBC One
In 2045, the creator of a virtual reality world hides the keys to his fortune in it for a worthy player to find after his death. Steven Spielberg directs the sci-fi adventure.
Have I Got 2021 News for You – 9.30pm, BBC One
Team captains Paul Merton and Ian Hislop are joined by a variety of guest hosts and panellists for a compilation that looks back at the big news of 2021, HIGNFY-style.
The Graham Norton Show - 10.20pm, BBC One
Graham's guests on his last show of 2021 are Jessica Chastain, Claire Foy, Peter Dinklage, Michael Sheen, Cush Jumbo and Joe Lycett. Music comes from the Divine Comedy.
Celebrity Gogglebox – 11.05pm, Channel 4
The best of this year's Celebrity Gogglebox specials. Famous faces on the sofa include Clare Balding & Alice Arnold, Gyles Brandreth & Maureen Lipman and Shaun Ryder & Bez.
The Big New Years & Years Eve Party with Kylie and Pet Shop Boys – 11.25pm, BBC One
Years & Years singer and It's A Sin actor Olly Alexander throws a spectacular New Year's Eve party, performing hits and covers and duetting with pop superstar Kylie Minogue.
The Masked Singer – 7pm, ITV
TV's most gripping guessing game is back with a host of new disguises including Panda, Bagpipes, Mushroom and Traffic Cone. Joel Dommett is the one without the mask.
Film Premiere: Downton Abbey (2019) - 8.30pm, ITV
The hit ITV drama's big-screen outing finds King George V and Queen Mary visiting Downton, leading to tensions both among the Crawleys and for the staff downstairs.
The Tourist – 9pm, BBC One
A new thriller from The Missing creators Jack and Harry Williams casts Jamie Dornan as a man who wakes up in the Australian Outback with no knowledge of who he really is.
Read more about BBC One memory-loss thriller The Tourist >
Taskmaster New Year Treat – 9pm, Channel 4
Claudia Winkleman, Johnnie Peacock, Baroness Warsi, Lady Leshurr and Adrian Chiles are taken to task by Greg Davies and Alex Horne in this one-off special to see in the New Year.