Garfield wakes up to see Jon dressed as an elf, who says it is Christmas and Garfield must be treated to a large amount of lasagna and get his gift, which consists of a robotic Santa which reads minds and produces whatever Garfield wants, pleasing him until he actually 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, and that he plans to take Garfield and Odie along to the countryside to celebrate Christmas with Jon's family on their farm. Garfield complains about having to go to the farm, as opposed to having Christmas at the Arbuckle house.
Jon, Garfield and Odie drive to the farm. Jon talks about how everybody are happy (Well, almost everybody) He then talks about how Doc Boy and him were little at Christmas. They arrive and Jon greets the family like his mom, dad, Doc Boy and his grandma who remembers Garfield. Garfield can see that Grandma and him are going to get along just fine. 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 grace. Grandma secretly gives food to Garfield and Odie. They then decorate the tree but find it too difficult to get the star on top of the tree; Garfield manages to accomplish the task. They then sing songs while Grandma tells Garfield about her husband and 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 year after year before they go to bed. Garfield finds out about Odie's suspicious activity and follows him into the barn. While there he stumbles upon some old letters which he thinks is fifty years old. Jon and Doc Boy wake dad up because it is Christmas morning but dad says that it is 1:30 AM and that they should go back to bed.
The next morning is Christmas and just when it seems like 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 late husband from back when they first started dating. 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 say "Christmas, it's not the giving, it's not the getting, it's the loving" and everyone sings and dances.
- "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme"
- "Can't Wait Till Christmas"
- "O Christmas Tree"
- "Christmas in Your Heart"
- "You Can Never Find an Elf When You Need One"
- "A Good Old-Fashioned Christmas"
- 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 due to censorship for the target audience.
- 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.
The special has been shown as late as 2009 on ABC Family.
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, though, 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, most noticeable in the scene where Grandma reminisces about her late husband; 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 not seen at all 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.