Let’s continue our look at the best of the best in the field of Christmas specials with perhaps the most quoted, parodied, and maybe even beloved special of all time: A Charlie Brown Christmas. This is the special that shouldn’t exist. It’s one if you are able to separate your nostalgia for the special itself and the characters from Peanuts and just watch it for what it is you’ll find a very low key, boring, plainly animated piece of television. It’s one I’ve seen countless times in my life and when I finally had kids of my own I was surprised at how it became a favorite of theirs basically right from the start. And that’s because it isn’t bad and the special possesses a charm that’s all its own. It is low stakes, but sometimes that works because we don’t always need some manufactured Christmas catastrophe in every special that’s out there. And sometimes, simple is just better.
A Charlie Brown Christmas goes all the way back to 1950 when the Peanuts strip by Charles M. Schulz debuted. The strip largely focuses on semi-autobiographical character Charlie Brown who famously has terrible luck, is socially awkward, and possessed by a great deal of self doubt. The strip was a hit, and the only surprise is that it took until 1965 for the characters to make the jump to animation. Producer and documentarian Lee Mendelson approached Schulz about doing a biography on him and his strip and the artist was onboard. The problem was, when Mendelson went to sell it to television stations at the time none were interested, but they were interested in a Christmas special. Coca-Cola, to be exact, wanted to air a special that December so Mendelson phoned Schulz and the pair basically wrote the outline and script in a day and Coca-Cola said, “Ok.”
Mendelson would bring animator Bill Melendez onboard to assemble a team to create the special with Vince Guaraldi handling the music. Schulz wrote the script himself and Melendez handled the boards and the whole thing was produced for about $96,000, which was about 20k over budget, but I think the return-on-investment has worked out for all parties. Children were cast to play the children in the special as Schulz felt that was most appropriate. Some, like Peter Robbins who played Charlie Brown, had been in the business for sometime while others were pretty green. Some, like Cathy Steinberg who played Sally, were too young to read so they had to do their character one line at a time which contributes to the disjointed feeling some of the dialogue has, which is just another imperfection that has become part of the charm.
The whole special was basically assembled in less than 6 months, a very short turn-around for an animated production. The special is aired at only about 12 frames per second and the animation is certainly limited, but it’s far from ugly. The backgrounds have a surreal quality in places even if the actual drawings are fairly simple. This would be expanded upon in later specials and there were plenty of those to follow. A Charlie Brown Christmas was a huge success and remains one of the few animated Christmas specials to still find an annual airing on television. Or it did. Unfortunately, it no longer airs on CBS or any other major network following the sale of the entire Peanuts media catalog to Apple in 2020. Part of the terms of the sale mandated that this special, along with the Halloween and Thanksgiving specials, be made available for free on Apple TV for a 3-day window during the season for which the special should air, but that’s hardly the same as having it on ABC or CBS. Due to public outcry, Apple did strike a deal with PBS to show the special on that station ad-free in both 2020 and 2021. As of this writing, there’s been no announcement for 2022, and considering there was no PBS broadcast for It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, it looks like the PBS days may be over.
And that’s a real shame. Everything is monetized and obviously entities have been making money off of Charlie Brown for more than half a century at this point and I wouldn’t argue for that to change, but it’s disappointing to see the holiday special on broadcast television essentially die. ABC, by virtue of being owned by Disney, will likely always air something in December, but as much as I like Prep & Landing and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure neither has the pull that A Charlie Brown Christmas does. It feels like, in terms of classic Christmas specials, we’re down to Rudolph, Frosty, and maybe Grinch. And how much longer will that last? Will CBS one day decide that Rudolph belongs behind a paywall? Will the Grinch be packaged with a bunch of Dr. Seuss material and sold off to Warner to go to whatever streaming platform they come up with next? Why can’t Apple simply partner with one of the big networks for a commercialized broadcast each year? It seems like a simple solution exists, but no one cares to seek it out because the people in charge of said companies don’t give a shit about tradition – just money.
At least I’ll always have The Christmas Tape. Yes, we’re returning to my 35 year old VHS for this entry as well as I’ll be pulling screens from that edition for this entry. That does mean I’ll be working off of a TV edit from 1987 and some scenes are either missing or shortened. When this one aired on CBS back then, such edits were commonplace. It wasn’t until ABC got their hands on the broadcast rights much later that there seemed to be a desire to show the special uncut. That was partly because the network would pair it with a newer special to form an hour long block so they still got their commercials in. And also, I think in the era of cheap and accessible DVD media more people were aware of how much specials like this one were edited for television and wanted to see it uncut.
The 1987 broadcast begins with the famous CBS special presentation logo. It’s still a thing of beauty. We go right into the special without a major opening title sequence. The original composition “Christmas Time is Here” sets the mood for a quiet, serene, motif with snow falling and children ice skating on a frozen pond. Much of this setting is basically pulled from Schulz’s own childhood growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota. While the children skate, Charlie Brown and Linus are shown exiting a building we’ll eventually come to know as the school, or the auditorium, where the play will be rehearsed. I don’t think the intention of this scene is to say the pair left that facility, rather it’s just a reused background for budgetary reasons and since it’s one of the first shots an ignorant viewer would have no idea it will be used for something else later. It’s a bit more confusing when we see the pair walking in a zoomed out shot shortly after and it’s night time. That background will be used later when the pair goes looking for a tree. They also don’t appear to be carrying their skating gear so we’ll have to look later and see if this is just a reused shot all together.
The two are shown walking once more, at daylight this time, as they presumably head for the pond. The pair come to rest by a brick wall in a shot that is now iconic and will be utilized in specials to come. It’s here that Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) confesses to his buddy Linus (Christopher Shea) that despite Christmas being on the way, the day which the entire kid universe revolves around on the calendar, he doesn’t feel any joy. He’s depressed, and rather than find a sympathetic ear in Linus, he just has it thrown back in his face, “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right, of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.” What an asshole!
The two resume their walk to the pond and join in the festivities. The kids are all skating and holding hands and even Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy (Melendez), is participating though he manages to skate without skates. He leads a chain of children and sends them all scattering to various parts of the pond when he goes into a spin move and falls down. Linus and Charlie Brown skate over and Snoopy immediately goes for Linus’s blanket. He grabs the thing with his mouth which entangles Linus, then Charlie Brown. The dog then does a very a un-doglike move by spinning the blanket and releasing it. Most would just chew it. The act causes Charlie Brown to rocket across the ice and into the deep, deep, snow where he collides with a small tree. As he rises out of the snow, stars circling his head, snow falls off of the tree to rebury him and we get the title displayed above for A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Following our first commercial break of the broadcast, we find Charlie Brown standing in his living room looking out the window. He grabs his coat and hat and heads outside to check the mailbox which ends with him uttering one of his catchphrases, “Rats!” He was hoping for a Christmas card, but finding none, he moves on with his life. He soon encounters Violet (Sally Dryer), and with a frown on his face thanks her for the Christmas card. She turns up her nose and informs him rather emphatically that she didn’t send him a Christmas card and walks away with Charlie Brown calling after her, “Don’t you know a sarcasm when you hear it?”
Charlie Brown continues his walk through the snow and next comes upon Pig-Pen (Geoffrey Orstein), the poor kid who is always dirty, as he builds a snowman. Charlie Brown remarks to the boy that he’s the only one he knows who can raise a dust cloud in a snow storm. The kid ignores the insult and continues building his admittedly dirty snowman. Charlie Brown next happens upon Snoopy who is seated on the roof of his doghouse reading a newspaper and working on a stack of bones. He just casually crunches them into his mouth like one might consume a bag of potato chips, only his pile of bones never decreases likely due to budgetary reasons and because it would be hard for Snoopy to keep retrieving the bones from the pile as it decreases.
We’re then shown a group of kids consisting of Lucy (Tracy Stratford), Schroeder (Chris Doran), Patty (Karen Mendelson), and Linus. Patty suggests the other kids try to catch snowflakes on their tongue in the interest of fun. Linus does as he’s commanded and remarks that they need sugar. Lucy then informs the crowd that she never eats December snowflakes, she always waits until January which just prompts Linus to comment that they look ripe to him. At this point, we should see the kids attempt to knock a can off a fence with snowballs and all fail until Linus uses his trusty blanket as a sling, but that segment was cut for the CBS broadcast of 1987. There was a rumor for a long time that this scene was cut, and eventually edited, because the can was a Coca-Cola can but that was proven false a few years ago.
Our version for today jumps to Schroeder pointing out to Lucy that she has a customer. I should also point out it has suddenly stopped snowing. Lucy apparently has a side hustle where she poses as a licensed therapist and offers psychiatric advice for the price of a nickel (or about 50 cents when adjusted for inflation). I guess you get what you pay for. Charlie Brown has taken a seat at her booth and Lucy approaches, but before he can spill his guts to her, she insists on payment upfront. When Charlie Brown deposits his coin, Lucy is delighted and shares with Charlie Brown her affection for money, the greedy little jerk. Finally, she attempts to diagnose Charlie Brown and find a source for his seasonal depression. She just lists a whole bunch of phobias, despite Charlie Brown never once suggesting he was afraid of anything, and one of them sounds like it should be a fear of a certain part of the male anatomy, but is instead fear of the ocean. When she gets to pantophobia, the fear of everything, Charlie Brown emphatically screams “That’s it!” causing Lucy to do a comical sequence of somersaults.
Charlie Brown then switches the subject from his fears to the real problem – Christmas. He confesses he should feel happy about the upcoming holiday, but instead he’s depressed. Lucy decides that to combat his depression, Charlie Brown needs involvement and proposes he direct their Christmas play. Charlie Brown seems flattered at the suggestion and momentarily happy, then the idea of directing seems to weigh on him and he starts back in with the self doubt. Lucy insists she’ll be there to help him and tells him to meet her at the auditorium later. As the two start walking she levels with Charlie and confesses that Christmas always lets her down too. The source of her frustration though is that she never gets what she wants and instead always gets toys, clothes, or a bicycle. When Charlie Brown asks her what she really wants she responds, “Real estate.”
It’s at this point that Charlie Brown notices his dog is up to something when he walks past the two carrying a big box of Christmas decorations. Charlie Brown follows the beagle to his doghouse where Snoopy is putting up decorations for Christmas. This seems cute at first, but when Charlie Browns asks what’s going on Snoopy hands him a flyer. It seems the dog has eyes on winning a lights and display contest which will award the winner with a cash prize. Charlie Brown is disgusted with his pooch as he wails, “My own dog, gone commercial, I can’t stand it!” He very dramatically tosses the flyer and runs away, and this guy thinks he can’t be a director?!
As Charlie Brown heads for the auditorium he comes across his sister, Sally (Cathy Steinberg). She indicates that she’s been looking for her big brother, but Charlie Brown just keeps walking. She follows and tells him she needs help writing a letter to Santa Claus. When he pauses, she shoves the pencil and clipboard in his face and Charlie Brown reluctantly agrees to help her. As she dictates the letter she begins with pleasantries before getting down to business. When she indicates she has a long list of presents, Charlie Brown can’t help himself and lets out an “Oh brother.” Before she can get to the actual list though, she gives Santa an out: just send money. When she suggests he supply that cash in the form of tens and twenties it becomes too much for Charlie Brown who wails and makes a dramatic showing once again shouting, “Even my baby sister!” Sally is just left holding her letter and pencil while she speaks to the camera to tell us, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share!” It’s one of the more “broken” bits of dialogue in the special as they clearly needed to stitch some takes together from the young Steinberg, but the end result feels cute.
We now find ourselves at the auditorium. A bunch of nameless kids, and a few named, are all dancing to the now classic composition “Linus and Lucy” which is being played by Schroeder from his tiny piano. Snoopy is on guitar and Pig-Pen on bass, but notably no one is on drums even though the song clearly has them. This scene is obviously super famous at this point and will be parodied many, many, times following this as will the dance moves of the children present. Lucy interrupts the festivities to call for quiet on the set as their director is expected at any moment. When Patty asks “What director?” Lucy informs them it’s Charlie Brown which produces a sincere “Oh no, we’re doomed!” from Violet. Lucy then welcomes Charlie Brown to the arena and the children politely clap, even though most likely share Violet’s sentiments, but Snoopy boos loudly causing Charlie Brown to frown and sarcastically exclaim, “Man’s best friend!”
Charlie Brown then tries to address the crew with a motivational speech. As he goes on, the group apparently gets bored and the music comes back on as Charlie Brown asks to no one, “I said am I right?” Everyone is back to dancing and the same shot of the kids dancing we just saw is repeated. It’s allowed to go on for a solid minute before Charlie Brown cries out to cut the music. Speaking into a megaphone, he sounds just as loud as normal, but we’ll forgive it. He orders Lucy to hand out the costumes and scripts and refers to her as “script girl,” which surely will not go over well, but to her credit Lucy does as she’s told.
Lucy first hands a costume and script to Frieda (Anne Altieri) who just can’t seem to focus on anything except her naturally curly hair. Next she hands Pig-Pen his script as he’s to be the innkeeper, meaning he’s to be paired with Frieda who is playing the innkeeper’s wife. Pig-Pen assures Lucy that despite his outward appearance he aspires to run a neat inn. Lucy then moves on to Shermy (Doran) who will be playing a shepherd. As Lucy walks off, Shermy informs us that he plays a shepherd every Christmas. This leads Lucy to Snoopy who is the Frank Welker of the production as he’s expected to play all of the animal roles. As she asks if he can handle each role, Snoopy demonstrates that he can culminating in him doing a decent penguin. Lucy is impressed, but once Snoopy starts to goof off a bit she goes on a rant about having discipline and respect for their director. As she does so, Snoopy just mocks her and once she catches wind of that informs the dog that he deserves a beating. She swings and misses, and Snoopy being the rascal that he is, responds with a big, doggy, kiss. This unnerves Lucy who starts running in circles calling for some disinfectant due to being kissed by a dog, but Charlie Brown just tells her to shut up and to continue handing out the scripts.
Lucy, once again, does as she’s told so at least she practices what she preaches about having respect for her director. She then hands Linus his script while also telling him to ditch the “stupid blanket.” Linus has no intention of doing so, but immediately starts fretting about the amount of lines he needs to memorize in order to play his role of a shepherd. When he demands Lucy provide one good reason why he should memorize these lines and put himself through such agony, she responds with an open hand and a declaration to give him “Five good reasons.” As she counts them off, she tucks in a finger until eventually forming a fist. Linus indicates those are good reasons and when she reiterates that he get rid of the blanket he retorts that “This is one Christmas shepherd who is going to keep his trusty blanket with him. See? You wouldn’t hit an innocent shepherd, would you?” he says as he wraps the thing over his head like a turban.
Lucy walks away in disgust to tell Charlie Brown that the cast is set and it’s time for him to take over. Charlie Brown is pleased by this and instructs Schroeder to set the mood for the first scene. Once he commands, “Action!” Schroeder just goes back to playing “Linus and Lucy” forcing Charlie Brown to yell, “Cut! Cut! Cut!” He then walks over to Frieda and Pig-Pen. Frieda is having a diva moment and refuses to perform because of the amount of dust coming from her co-star. She says it’s taking the curl out of her naturally curly hair and when Charlie Brown suggests she treat it like the dirt of some hallowed ground Pig-Pen seems flattered. When he tells Frieda she should treat him with more respect, she thrusts her mirror in his face and orders him to take a look at himself. This backfires as Pig-Pen declares, “On the contrary, I didn’t think I looked that good.”
Charlie Brown apparently felt that confrontation was resolved as he now turns his attention towards his baby sister. When Linus asks what he has planned for Sally, Charlie Brown informs him that she’s going to play his wife. This makes Linus blush as Sally comes over with hearts floating above her head. She flatters him by asking if he’s the cutest thing and compliments his sense of humor which just makes Linus blush even more. He hides his head under his blanket and tries to walk away, but Sally follows hanging onto his blanket with every step.
Charlie Brown is then interrupted when Lucy declares a lunch break. He’s flabbergasted by this suggestion, but when he questions Lucy she gestures to Snoopy who is holding his doggy dish. He does some tricks with it, but Charlie Brown seems unimpressed. He declares this is no time for foolishness before adding, “We’ve got to get on with our play,” another often parodied line. This causes Lucy to wonder about her part and then asks “What about our Christmas Queen?” a role unassigned so far. She then asks Charlie Brown if he thinks she’s beautiful, but before he’s even allowed to respond she takes offense for if he really thought she was beautiful he would have spoken right up. Declaring “I know when I’ve been insulted,” Lucy storms off leaving Charlie Brown to utter, “Good grief.”
Not one to let Lucy bother him, Charlie Brown just calls for the next scene and, predictably, Schroeder responds by playing “Linus and Lucy” again. The kids all dance some more and Lucy, apparently getting over the perceived insults of just a few seconds ago, is shown smiling and snapping along to the music. She asks Charlie Brown, “Isn’t this a great play?” but he just slams his megaphone and storms over towards the others pleading with them for some cooperation. He then returns to his director’s chair where he hangs his head. Lucy seems confused and asks once more if he thinks the play is great to which Charlie Brown responds, “It’s all wrong!” He then settles on the mood being what’s off and declares their production needs a Christmas tree! Lucy thinks that’s a great idea and instructs Charlie Brown to go get one, suggesting he get a big, shiny, aluminum, pink-painted Christmas tree. Charlie Brown is in agreement and declares he’ll take Linus with him, but in the meantime, he wants the others to practice their lines. As he and Linus depart, Patty offers some words of encouragement with “Do something right for a change, Charlie Brown!” As Charlie Brown and Linus stand outside the auditorium, we can hear “Linus and Lucy” coming from inside which causes Charlie Brown to remark in a somewhat exasperated fashion, “I just don’t know, Linus, I just don’t know.”
The two walk off into the night vowing to find a worthy Christmas tree for the play. Linus suggests they head towards some stick lights to find a tree lot. When they do, we see basically the same animation I mentioned we should look out for from earlier and the only difference between the two shots is the inclusion of said stick lights this time. When Charlie Brown and Linus reach the origins of the lights, they find a wondrous tree lot full of brightly colored trees all made of aluminum. It’s so odd looking since no trees like this have ever existed. I have to assume this was just an exaggerated take on the old aluminum pole with fiberglass needles and branches that are very common these days and were probably rising in popularity back in the 60s. And as much as I enjoy an authentic Christmas tree, I have to admit the artificial ones were probably a good idea back then given the fire hazard caused by those old, colored, giant, light bulbs that were commonly used on all trees.
The two look through the lot as “Oh Tannenbaum” is played in the background until Charlie Brown sets his eyes on a tiny tree. A tiny, real, pathetic, looking tree. It’s barely a weed, but Charlie Brown likes it for some reason. Linus, who only earlier today was willing to rip Charlie Brown over his depression, is rather polite in trying to talk his friend out of selecting this tree reminding him what Lucy said. Charlie Brown tells him he doesn’t care what Lucy had to say about a tree and insists that, once decorated, this little tree will be perfect for their play. He then adds, “Besides, I think it needs me,” suggesting that Charlie Brown feels some sort of kinship with the sapling. When he lifts it off the ground though, several needles fall off to the sound of keys which is pretty cute. The two take notice of the needles, but say nothing to each other about it, as they walk out of the scene.
At the auditorium, Lucy is just lounging by Schroeder as he plays his piano. Schroeder declares he’s settled on a composition for the play and starts playing some Beethoven. When Lucy asks what he’s doing, he tells her, which causes her to go on a rant about how Beethoven wasn’t so great which Schroeder finds insulting. It would seem Lucy’s definition of greatness is heavily dependent upon that person being featured on a bubble gum card, and since no such card features Beethoven, he wasn’t so great. Schroeder can’t even argue with her and just says “Good grief,” before going into another song. Snoopy seems to like it as he pops over and starts tapping his foot. He eventually gets really into it and starts dancing on Schroeder’s piano. Once he and Lucy notice, he stops playing leaving Snoopy dancing to nothing. Blushing, he stops and slinks off.
With the dog gone, Lucy asks Schroeder if he can play “Jingle Bells.” He obliges, but Lucy apparently finds the composition too complex and tells him it’s not right. He then plays it a different way, and we have to ignore that his little piano turned into an electric organ to produce this different sounding “Jingle Bells.” Lucy still isn’t satisfied insisting “I mean Jingle Bells! You know – Santa Claus and ‘ho, ho, ho?’ And mistletoe? And presents to pretty girls?” As she recites that, she inches closer to Schroeder and smiles at him suggestively. Schroeder can only frown in response, and with one finger, plays “Jingle Bells” on the highest note on the piano in a manner only a non-musician would play it. Lucy listens intently, and then shouts “That’s it!” in what is basically a reoccurrence of the joke from earlier when Charlie Brown responded to her in a similar manner. And just like before, the shouting of “That’s it,” causes the recipient to spin in somersaults.
Charlie Brown and Linus then enter with Charlie Brown carrying his pathetic little tree. He places it on the piano and some of the needles fall. As he goes to hang his coat up, the other kids just stare at the tree in disbelief. Violet is the first to comment with “Boy, are you stupid, Charlie Brown!” Patty follows it up with “What kind of tree is that?!” and then Lucy piles on by sarcastically asking if he can tell the difference between a poor tree and a good tree. Charlie Brown just takes the abuse, finally uttering another, “Rats!” When they’re done ragging on him and his tree, the kids just burst into laughter, including Snoopy, and then walk away.
Charlie Brown confesses to Linus that he should have listened to him. He then adds that he doesn’t know what Christmas is all about before shouting to the heavens, “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?!” This kid really does have the drama nailed. Linus calmly assures him that he can tell him what Christmas is all about. He makes for center stage and requests the lights of someone, who is operating them is a mystery. Linus then recites a biblical passage, Luke 2: 8-14, which was a point of contention during the production of the special. Mendelson felt they should steer clear of the Bible, for even though America was certainly more secular in the 60s, shining a spotlight on religion in a Christmas special was apparently considered too controversial for television. Schulz was pretty adamant that it should be a part of it, and he apparently won that argument. Not only did he get Linus to quote scripture, it’s positioned in such a way that no network could ever consider removing it for the special wouldn’t make sense without it.
When Linus is done, he walks over to Charlie Brown to reiterate “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” This causes Charlie Brown to smile, for in religion, he has found the true meaning of Christmas. While “Oh Tannenbaum” plays in the background once more, Charlie Brown grabs his coat and gathers up his little tree. He no longer needs involvement, or a play, because he has Christmas in his heart! He leaves the auditorium via a new background (making me wonder if the other shot of Linus and Charlie Brown leaving the auditorium was a mistake) while the other kids follow at a generous distance. As he walks under the night sky, Linus’s words echo through his brain about the birth of Christ, climaxing with the line, “And this will be a sign unto you.” He smiles as he says to himself “Linus is right, I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas. I’ll take this little tree home and decorate it and I’ll show them it really will work for our play,” as he skips off into the night.
The special basically could have ended right there, but it doesn’t. Instead, we see Charlie Brown coming upon Snoopy’s dog house. There’s a medal pinned to it indicating that Snoopy won first prize. Charlie Brown is shocked, and rightfully so since the display isn’t anything special. Maybe he got bonus points for being a dog and all? Either way, Charlie Brown isn’t going to let his commercial dog ruin things for him. He grabs an ornament from the house and places it on his little tree. It immediately tips over as the ornament comes to rest on the ground. Declaring he killed it, Charlie Brown turns to drama one last time whining “Everything I touch gets ruined!”
As Charlie Brown runs off, the other kids come upon the tree. Linus is the one to remark it’s not a bad little tree at all and wraps his blanket around the base of it providing enough support for the tree to stand. The other kids remove the decorations from Snoopy’s house and place them on the tree. Now it’s completely transformed into an impossibly beautiful little tree. Lucy is forced to admit that Charlie Brown actually picked out a nice tree after all. They all start to chant some “Ooo” thing, until Charlie Brown returns.
Charlie Brown demands to know what’s going on before noticing the tree. He stares at it in disbelief as the camera zooms in on the resplendent tree and pans down. The kids all just shout in unison, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” before breaking into a rendition of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Charlie Brown turns to the camera and smiles before joining the chorus. The kids sing us out until “The End” appears on the screen.
And that’s the end of a bonafide Christmas classic! Nearly every scene from this one is now considered iconic and is frequently parodied or celebrated with an homage in another movie or special. I think South Park has done it at least three times at this point with both of the first two Christmas specials from that show climaxing with a “Merry Christmas,” someone. And it’s hard not to be charmed by this one. Charlie Brown is a rather dramatic individual, but he is sympathetic. And the older you get, the easier it is to relate to a case of seasonal depression. I love Christmas, but there will often be a time or two where it weighs me down for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s just the thought of the season leaving that gets me down, but whatever the reason, depression is depression and it’s something almost anyone can relate to on some level. Charlie Brown’s peers are largely a bunch of jerks. Even his lone friend, Linus, is insultingly dismissive of his problems early on and don’t think he redeemed himself just by quoting the Bible! The whole subplot of a Christmas play has always felt a tad underdeveloped, mostly because we just don’t know much of anything about the production they’re supposed to be rehearsing, but it serves its purpose and gets Charlie Brown to the tree lot and eventually his resolution.
The ironic thing about this special in 2022, and really for the last 20 or so years, is that it criticizes the commercial aspect of Christmas with one of the most merchandised brands in the world. Were they actually selling imitation Charlie Brown trees while Charles Schulz was still alive? I don’t know, but if they were and he saw them I have to believe it was something he would roll his eyes at. Or maybe not since the brand made him a ton of money and a lot of that is owed to this special which was the first of many. There wasn’t a holiday the Peanuts gang were unwilling to create a special for and commercialization was something the brand benefitted from more than any other. I suppose Schulz could take some solace in the special, with it’s anti-commercialism message, being so well-received and make the assumption that those who did see it took the right message to heart. I have no idea if that’s true though and the cynic in me says, “No freaking way.”
The special is what it is, and while Schulz could have refused to merchandize Peanuts, I don’t necessarily think the world is in a worse place because he didn’t go the Bill Waterson route with his creation. People like Charlie Brown and like the specials he and the others have been a part of these past 50+ years. And those shirts, statues, plushies, and other odds and ends have likely brought some kind of happiness to countless individuals and I think that’s fine. Some abhor taking pleasure in any material good, but not me, so enjoy your tiny, artificial trees, your Santa Snoopies, and absolutely make time each holiday season for A Charlie Brown Christmas.
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