Christmas Eve TV listings: The best shows and movies on the BBC, ITV and more

Katie Rosseinsky
Lupus Films / Channel 4

Planning your Christmas viewing is as much an integral part of the yuletide period as fussing over the turkey and getting overly invested in Monopoly.

Christmas Eve TV doesn’t follow quite so prescribed a formula as the watertight schedule for December 25 (which runs like clockwork from the Queen’s Speech to the EastEnders special), which is arguably part of its charm - you can start the day with a cosy animation and end up with a ghost story (although the Not Going Out special is perhaps a more chilling prospect).

Whether you’re after family-friendly viewing or an excuse to avoid the family altogether, the programming gods have obliged with a packed line-up of films and TV specials designed to fill even the most Scrooge-like of viewers with glad tidings.

Reserve a place on the sofa and make sure a tub of Celebrations is nearby - these are our Christmas Eve TV highlights…

Toy Story 3 - 1.25pm, BBC One

Emotional: Brace yourself for tears in Toy Story 3 (Walt Disney/Pixar)

Best for: Distracting over-excited kids

The third instalment of Disney and Pixar’s animated series kicks off an afternoon of kid-distracting films on BBC One. As with every Toy Story movie, there are enough colourful characters and action sequences to keep children enthralled and a handful of more sophisticated jokes for the grown-ups (plus the heartbreaking plotline which sees Woody’s owner Andy preparing to give up his toys as he heads off to colleague will surely move even the coldest of hearts to tears).

Frozen - 3pm, BBC One

Sister act: Elsa and Anna in Frozen

Best for: Singing along

Disney’s enchanting mega-hit follows immediately after on the same channel. With its dreamy snowscapes, message of sisterhood and those earworm songs, Frozen is a magical return to form for the animation juggernaut - just resign yourself to the fact that Let It Go will be reverberating through your head through the rest of the holiday period...

Carols from King’s - 5pm, BBC Two

Traditional: The King's College choir (Leon Hargreaves/King's College)

Best for: Getting into the festive spirit

A mainstay of the Christmas Eve TV schedule, the traditional broadcast from King’s College Cambridge will have you feeling festive from the opening notes of Once In Royal David’s City. The choir, directed for the first time by Daniel Hyde, will perform an assortment of carols including The Sussex Carol and O Holy Night.

Elf - 5.15pm, ITV

Hilarious: Will Ferrell (right) as Buddy the Elf

Best for: Crowd-pleasing comedy

You’ve seen it three hundred times before, but that’s never stopped you from re-watching Will Ferrell’s Christmas comedy, so why should it now? The endlessly quotable film sees Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf swap the North Pole for New York in a bid to find his real father - but you knew that already....

Beauty and the Beast - 5.30pm, BBC One

Best for: Nostalgic '90s children (and their kids)

BBC One’s hat trick of child-friendly programming concludes with 2017’s live action version of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson as a proto-feminist Belle and Dan Stevens as a Beast whose bark is worse than his bite. Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor and a coterie of other big names have plenty of fun as a singing teapot, a charming candlestick and other assorted magical household items.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea - 7.30pm, Channel 4

Animation: Judith Kerr's tale comes to life (Lupus Films / Channel 4)

Best for: Family-friendly teatime viewing

Judith Kerr’s charming children’s classic finally gets the animated treatment in this one-off special from Channel 4, which has assembled a starry voice cast including David Walliams as the narrator, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tamsin Grieg as the young protagonist Sophie’s parents and David Oyelowo as the Tiger who (spoiler alert) wreaks havoc when he turns up at their home and invites himself in for tea.

The Holiday - 8pm, ITV2

Heart-warming: Cameron Diaz and Jude Law in the festive romance (UIP)

Best for: Watching after a few mulled wines

Everyone knows that the real meaning of Christmas is watching Love Actually and The Holiday on an eternal rom-com loop, with maybe a dash of Bridget Jones (it starts and finishes over the festive season, so it sort of counts) thrown in. ITV2 has obliged by airing Nancy Meyers’ house-swapping extravaganza, which stars Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and, erm, Jack Black, in the evening slot. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a couple of glasses of mulled wine (ideally prepared in one of Meyers’ aesthetically pleasing kitchen sets).

A Christmas Carol - 9pm, BBC One

Repentant: Guy Pearce as Scrooge (FX Networks/Scott Free)

Best for: Watching with your period drama-loving parents

Steven Knight’s adaptation of Dickens’ classic Christmas tale, starring Guy Pearce as Scrooge and Stephen Graham as Jacob Marley, comes to an end on Christmas Eve. The third episode brings Scrooge face to face with the Ghost of Christmas Future - and finally gives him the chance to repent on his past miserliness and forge a new, happier life.

Martin’s Close - 10pm, BBC Four

Chilling: Peter Capaldi in Martin's Close (Can Do Productions with Adorable Media)

Best for: Alternative Christmas viewing when you’re sick of festive schmaltz

Mark Gatiss’ ghost stories are becoming something of a festive institution for the BBC. His latest offering is an adaptation of a spooky tale from master of the form MR James, starring his former Doctor Who co-star Peter Capaldi. The chilling half-hour special follows a 17th century murder trial with a supernatural twist, where the accused has been visited by the ghost of the victim. If that doesn’t sate your taste for something scary, the 2009 Beeb adaptation of Henry James’ classic The Turn of the Screw airs straight after (which sees Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens acting together before we knew them as Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley).