On Christmas Eve, Jon Arbuckle takes his pets to his family's farm. While there, the events and stories help Garfield to discover the true meaning of Christmas.
Garfield wakes up on Christmas morning to see Jon dressed as an elf. Jon then lays out a trail of lasagna to lead Garfield to his gift, which consists of a robotic mind-reading Santa which can produce anything desired. This pleases Garfield until he wakes up to find it was a dream and sees Jon next to him. Jon informs an uninterested Garfield that it is Christmas Eve morning, as well as his plans to go to the countryside with both of his pets to celebrate Christmas with Jon's family on their farm. Garfield complains about having to go to the farm, as opposed to staying at the Arbuckle house for Christmas.
Jon, Garfield, and Odie drive to the farm. Jon talks about how (almost) everybody is happy at Christmas. He then talks and sings about how he and Doc Boy were little at Christmas. They arrive and Jon greets the family: his mom, dad, Doc Boy, and Grandma, who remembers Garfield. Garfield can see that he will get along well with Grandma. While Garfield, Jon, and Odie are outside, Grandma secretly puts chili powder in the sausage gravy. Odie is busy working on something secretive. Everyone has Christmas dinner after Doc Boy says a long-winded grace. Grandma secretly gives food to Garfield and Odie. They then decorate the tree, finding it too difficult to get the star on top of the tree; Garfield manages to accomplish the task. They then sing Christmas songs while Grandma tells Garfield about her late husband, noting that this is the night she misses him most. The family then makes Dad read "Binky: the Clown who Saved Christmas" which he hates reading every year, before they go to bed. Garfield finds out about Odie's suspicious activity and follows him into the barn. There, he stumbles upon some old letters which he estimates to be fifty years old. Meanwhile, Jon and Doc Boy wake Dad up because it is "technically Christmas morning"; Dad says that they should go back to bed because it is 1:30 in the morning and not yet time to open presents.
The next morning, Jon and Doc Boy decide to open presents first. After seemingly all the presents have been opened, Garfield gives Grandma the letters he found in the barn. The letters turn out to be old love letters written to Grandma by her husband from back when they dated. Garfield finds out that Odie had been busy making Garfield the ultimate Christmas gift: a homemade back-scratcher. This is a rare glimpse at Garfield's softer side, as he learns one of the true meanings of Christmas by saying "Christmas, it's not the giving, it's not the getting, it's the loving". Everyone then sings and dances.
- Binky the Clown (Mentioned)
- "Gimme" performed by Lou Rawls
- "Can't Wait Till Christmas" performed by Thom Huge, Lorenzo Music, and Gregg Berger
- "O Christmas Tree" performed by David Lander and Pat Carroll
- "Christmas in Your Heart" performed by Desirée Goyette
- "You Can Never Find an Elf When You Need One" performed by Lou Rawls and Desirée Goyette
- "A Good Old-Fashioned Christmas"
- Traditional Christmas songs (all instrumental):
- Jingle Bells
- Deck the Halls
- Good King Wenceslas
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas
- It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
An instrumental version of "Here Comes Garfield" is heard when Jon talks to Garfield about going to the farm.
- The title card refers to the special as "A Garfield Christmas Special".
- The comic book adaptation has a few scenes that were unused in the special:
- Garfield attempts to give Odie away to Jon's parents as a Christmas present.
- Jon attempts to help out his dad and Doc Boy with bailing hay.
- After trimming the tree, when Mom says, "It just wouldn't be Christmas if we put the star on first, honey," Dad responds by saying, "One more remark like that and you'll see stars, woman." This was edited from TV as well.
- In the barn, Garfield finds that Odie is having trouble finishing his present, so while Odie is not looking, he helps him.
In addition to VHS and DVD, it is available as a digital download in both Standard-Definition and High-Definition.
In 1991, the following edits were made to the special:
- Jon driving his car out of his driveway and down his neighborhood was cut.
- Grandma giving some of her dinner to Garfield and Odie under the table was trimmed to remove two additional shots of Garfield and Odie receiving their meal.
- The original broadcast version did not have the scene in which Doc Boy and then Grandma play "O Christmas Tree" on the piano. Instead, the special cut straight to Jon asking "Why don't you play [the piano] for us, Mom?", immediately following Garfield's comment on the fully decorated tree. The cut is made rather obvious, due to Garfield standing in front of the tree and then suddenly sitting on top of the piano in the very next shot, indicating that the scene was cut at the last minute.
- A full six seconds of music were cut from the song "You Can Never Find an Elf When You Need One".
- Some shots also had their animation completely redone, particularly in the scene where Grandma reminisces about her late husband. During the scene, new shots, all done in a different lighting, were made, including a close-up on a framed photo of Grandma with her husband, which was never seen in the original version. Also, when Jon and Doc Boy go to bed after Dad finishes reading Binky, the Clown Who Saved Christmas, the reaction on Dad's face is different.
The 1991 edit has been used in all subsequent broadcasts, as well as on VHS, the Garfield Holiday Celebrations DVD, and earlier copies of the Garfield Holiday Collection DVD. The original 1987 cut was made available for viewing on Hulu.com during December 2014 and 2015, and is available on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. Later copies of the Garfield Holiday Collection DVD have also used the original 1987 version.