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The Christmas season is known for its plethora of viewing material, from streaming movies, to cable TV specials. While many holiday films are classics, which television special is the longest-running of all time?

Which Christmas movie is the longest-running TV special ever?

Christmas dinner
A traditional festive dinner table | Chaloner Woods/Getty Images

According to Geek Wire, the holiday special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the “longest-running, highest-rated special in television history.”

The Christmas movie was a “smash hit” for 1964, “watched by 55% of television viewers” the year it came out.

Smithsonian Magazine confirmed the Christmas special’s ranking, reporting that Rudolph “became such a hit that it has been rebroadcast every year since, making it the longest-running Christmas special in history.”

In the last few years, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has still acheived top-notch ratings among tough competition. Per the magazine:

… when Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer aired on CBS in 2016, it beat every show except This Is Us. In 2017, more viewers tuned in to watch Rudolph than A Charlie Brown Christmas, which ran on ABC in the same time slot.

‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ is a holiday-time tradition

As Geek Wire argued, the enduring success of Rudolph has made the TV special a Christmas-time tradition for many families. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the publication argued, “evolved into the viewing equivalent of familiar holiday comforts like pumpkin pie, pine scent and post-relative-visit doctored egg nog.”

Rick Goldschmidt, who the magazine calls “the official historian of Rankin/Bass Productions,” the production company behind Rudolph, told Smithsonian the Christmas special’s characters and its ever-relevant story have made it a must-see for several generations of children — nodding to the film’s screenwriter, Romeo Muller.

“Romeo wrote these characters to be underdogs that don’t quite fit in the world,” Goldschmidt explained. “By the end of the show, they triumph, and the villains get reformed most of the time. They’re such satisfying stories.”

The Christmas special is unique for its story and characters

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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But Goldschmidt also gives huge credit to Rudolph’s lead animator, Tadahito Mochinaga.

“Even though the animation got more fluid as time went on, and it got more perfected and things looked technically better, they still thought that Rudolph was the best,” he told the publication.

After all this time, the TV historian has a special place in his heart for the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer characters.

“I don’t even think of them as puppets,” Goldschmidt shared. “I think of them as personalities. And that’s what [Rankin/Bass and Mochinaga] brought to the art form.”

Aside from Rudolph’s enduring legacy as Christmas classic, the special has also inspired others in the movie industry. As Smithsonian reported:

Rankin/Bass’ collection of television specials continue to inspire modern filmmakers, including Tim Burton, who frequently uses stop-motion animation. Like Mochinaga, Burton relied on a cast of puppets built with interior joints to create The Nightmare Before Christmas’ characters, who move fluidly through 230 built-to-scale sets.