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Holiday Traditions: A Charlie Brown Christmas

December 9, 2009

As far back as I can remember, I’ve never spent a Christmas without watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” When we were kids, the holiday season didn’t start with Thanksgiving turkey and King Kong marathons. Christmas started with the stop motion animated “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I would make sure I was done with homework, or anything else I had to do, in order to be in front of that TV at 8 pm for Charlie Brown. As time wore on, it was the Peanuts special that remained my tradition.

You could count the amount of adults in any Charlie Brown special on one hand and have most of your fingers left. You never really saw them. The only adult we were ever aware about was Linus’ crush, Miss Othmar (played not so delicately by a muted trombone, possibly a reference to teachers being one of the most important instruments in a child’s future). In Peanuts cartoons, it was a world of highly intelligent children who still retained child-like awe and wonder. Schroeder could play Beethoven on a toy piano, yet had little interest in Lucy, the lemonade-stand psychiatrist who charged a mere nickel for her advice. Sally had quite the crush on Linus, who much preferred his blanket over anything close to resembling a romantic interest. Snoopy was off fighting the Red Baron at the first sign of danger, yet still had to kick his dog dish in front of his owner simply to be fed. Charlie Brown? Ever the optimist, in spite of his depressed rants. He managed to give up clothes removing home run after home run with every pitch, was never quite able to kick the football that Lucy held, and I don’t believe he ever got closer to the little red haired girl other than offering her his sandwich. Yet Charlie Brown still managed to hold on to his dreams, small ones to us, but large ones to him. And he never gave up.

Watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as a kid, I never bothered to understand its message. To me it was a beagle who strung up lights around a doghouse, a Christmas play, and a few twigs that magically turned into a Christmas tree. Years later, its messages resonate loud and clear, probably moreso now than its initial airing in 1965.

In 2009, Christmas has turned into the cog that helps keeps businesses alive. Have a great Christmas and next year’s bonus might reflect that. Have a lousy Christmas and you may be out of work– not exactly holiday cheer. Maybe the intensity of consumerism has grown over time; however, in 1965 it was brought down to something we can all understand in the form of Snoopy entering a lights display contest, taking advantage of the holiday for monetary gain. Sally’s biggest concern was what Santa could bring from her Christmas list? No toys? Send money!

Perhaps Charles Schultz had a message when he allowed his Peanuts characters to run rampant during rehearsals for their Christmas play. Only Charlie Brown was able to keep his focus while everyone else lost theirs. Only Charlie Brown was able to find beauty in an otherwise dreadful little tree, showing us that we can see beauty in anything so long as we look through unfiltered eyes and show a little love.

In the end, it was a one minute and twenty second segment that garnered the most critical acclaim. With Charlie Brown’s frustration at an all time high, Linus, a blanket toting grade schooler, takes the lone spot light and quotes the Gospel of Luke, verses 8 to 14:

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'” (See Video Clip)

And a child shall lead them . . . even if he carries a security blanket.

In this day and age of political correctness, I’m sure someone has found fault or has been offended by that scene, which would be a shame, as it’s one of the greatest messages of love, peace and joy ever written.  It’s the message that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” insists we’ve lost focus on, whether through consumerism or anything else going on in our lives. Sure, it’s partially about Santa Claus– I love giving and getting gifts, too! This program doesn’t so much demean that aspect of Christmas but rather asks the viewer to keep in mind why it is that we celebrate the season.

Peanuts characters have always been adults living life as children. They’re smart enough to rattle off of list of phobias, ask for the gift of real estate, know that Christmas is run by a big eastern syndicate and quote scriptures off the tops of their heads. Yet they’re always willing to accept, still willing to learn, all with an uninhibited view of the world. They represent our inner child.

At least once every December, to quote Jimmy Buffet, I give in “to the child in me that can’t say goodbye” and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as though I were five years old again: a bowl of popcorn, a soda, my spot on the couch, happy that another holiday season is upon us. As an adult I finally understand its messages, yet I am child enough to still wave my arms over a small wire tree, just in case I can turn it into a large, decorated spruce with a star on top. I’ve always wanted to do that.

If Charlie Brown can hold on to his dreams, why can’t I?

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