It’s virtually impossible to avoid the tidal wave of commercialism that accompanies each holiday season, sending shoppers scurrying to the nearest department store to empty their wallets. Perhaps to provide some counterbalance, a quaint little cartoon airs each year, serving as a reminder that other aspects of Christmas might be more worthy of celebration. A favorite since it first aired in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has touched the hearts of millions of television viewers with its back-to-basics approach to Christmas. Its enduring success stems from its charming simplicity, endearing characters, and an infectious, jazz-laced musical score that replays in one’s memory long after the cartoon’s conclusion. Join us as we take a look back at this beloved classic.
With Christmas soon to arrive, Charlie Brown finds himself in a melancholy mood, unable to share in the holiday spirit of his peers, and peeved at the rampant commercialization surrounding him. Lucy, perched within her psychiatry booth, seems to be the only one that understands his plight, and she has a suggestion – Charlie Brown should direct the annual Christmas play to lift his spirits. Reluctantly, Charlie agrees and, upon arriving at the auditorium, is immediately met with skepticism from the entire cast. Charlie is none-too-thrilled with the cast either, especially their insistence on modernizing the production. Shroeder has composed a particularly peppy tune (the iconic “Linus and Lucy” theme) and the entire cast has created some flashy choreography to accompany his composition. But Charlie will have none of it. This is going to be a traditional play with the “proper mood.”
He decides that what the production really needs is a Christmas tree. Everyone agrees, and requests “a big, shiny aluminum tree…maybe painted pink!” Charlie and Linus set out to the tree lot and, upon arriving, are dismayed to find that all of the trees are artificial – well, all but one. The lone real tree is a sorry-looking and scraggly sapling, unable to even support its own weight. Charlie decided that this is the perfect tree, and brings it back to the auditorium. His peers are less-than-impressed, and proceed to berate and ridicule him. Finally at his limit, Charlie looks to the heavens in disgust and asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is about?” Linus steps up nonchalantly and proceeds to quote a biblical passage, explaining that the holiday is about the birth of Jesus. Suddenly, everything begins to make sense as Charlie realizes that Christmas doesn’t have to be about commercialism; it can mean what you want it to mean.
A Charlie Brown Christmas originally aired on CBS until 2000, when the rights were sold to ABC. It has been altered numerous times over the years – edited to allow for more commercials, as well as removing traces of the special’s original sponsor, Coca-Cola (who had placed their logo throughout the cartoon). So while it continues to be shown every year on television, the uncut version on DVD is truer to the original. The wonderful musical score composed by Vince Guaraldi is also available and well worth adding to any collection.
We all owe a tip of the hat to Charles Schulz, for sharing his wisdom, not to mention his cast of lovable characters, and teach us a thing or two about the spirit of the season. There is a timeless and captivating quality to A Charlie Brown Christmas that few holiday shows have ever managed to duplicate. And with commercialism showing no signs of diminishing in the near future, it is likely that this endearing cartoon will remain popular, and continue to enlighten, for generations to come.
If you have treasured memories of watching this classic special in your youth, perhaps one that you now share with your own kids, we welcome your reflections in our comments section.