Saturday, December 3, 2022

‘That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown’

One of my favorite holiday traditions is watching the iconic television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I loved that show when I was a little kid; I loved it when I was a young adult, even though I was an atheist; and I love it more than ever now.

The Charlie Brown Christmas show is one of the few holiday programs that actually mentions the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus. There are many enjoyable animated TV specials, such as the Grinch, Rudolph, Kris Kringle, Garfield, Scrooge McDuck, etc. All of these, plus many others, have become holiday favorites. But other than having decorated trees and other secular aspects of Christmas, these shows make no mention of Jesus. 
On second thought, there is one old favorite, “Pee Wee’s Christmas Special,” that actually gives a brief description of the Nativity, with a quick video clip of kids in a church dressed as Mary, Joseph, wise men, etc. (There’s also a scene with animated dinosaurs playing dreidel to celebrate Hannukah.) So, kudos to you, Paul Ruebens, for not avoiding the religious aspect of the holidays.

Anyway, the climatic scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” begins when Charlie Brown desperately exclaims, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”

In reply, Linus says, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” Then he walks to the center of the stage in the school auditorium, dragging his trusty blanket, and calls out, “Lights, please.”

When the spotlight shines on him, Linus starts to recite a passage from Luke’s gospel, chapter 2: 

     And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
     keeping watch over their flock by night.
     And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord
     shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

     And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, 
     I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

     For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour,
     ‘tis Christ the Lord.

     And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped 
     in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

     And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude
     of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 
     Glory to God in the highest,
     and on earth peace, good will toward men.
After a brief pause, Linus shuffles back to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

I don’t know about you, but even after seeing that scene a zillion times in my life, I still get a little teary-eyed when Linus says that last line.

Can you imagine a production company making a Christmas special for network TV nowadays and deciding to include a scene that quotes the Bible? No chance. In fact, way back in 1965, when Charles Schulz wrote Linus’ scene for the show, he faced a lot of resistance from the production staff and network executives. But Schulz insisted on including it. 

The final version of the show was considered so odd — with Vince Guaraldi’s avant garde jazz soundtrack, actual children recording the voices rather than adults pretending to be children, and no laugh track — the network executives were convinced the show would bomb. To their chagrin, they had committed to broadcasting the show, and figured it would air one time and quickly be forgotten as an awkward and ill-advised attempt to bring a comic strip to life. The show was broadcast on December 9, 1965, and the rest, as they say, is history. Fully half of America’s TV sets tuned in that night, and the poignant show became an instant classic.
During this hectic time of year, please try to find time to make a little hot cocoa, sit down with your family, and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” together. And when Linus says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” I dare you not to shed a tear.

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