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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
While I had no particular order when putting this feature together, I made sure I left the best for last. A Charlie Brown Christmas is my favorite Christmas special of all time. I am sure my love for Peanuts has a lot to do with that. In this classic tale, Charlie Brown is not feeling the Christmas spirit and is down about all the commercialism. Lucy gets him hooked up as the director of a local Christmas play, which does not work out as planned (Author’s Note: as a former high school play director, I identify with this). He decides to get a tree, but picks a pathetic one. He is mocked, but Linus saves the day by quoting the Bible that Christmas is really about Jesus’s birth. Charlie Brown’s faith is restored, and all of his friends spruce up the tree causing everyone to have a Merry Christmas.
Sorry for the spoilers, but, honestly, who has not seen this already? For a children’s Christmas special, it is surprisingly complex with feelings of self-doubt, crushed hope, and renewed optimism. Also, in a bold move for 1965 (as well as today), the special goes straight for religion. Many TV specials are too afraid to do that. Linus hits it perfectly on what Christmas is really about. But, everything else in the special deals with the secular world. A Charlie Brown Christmas subtly introduces the idea that the two can easily co-exist.
I love this history surrounding this special. Like its namesake, A Charlie Brown Christmas was a special that no one had any faith in. It was somewhat slapped together and was met with extreme disappointment with the television execs a few days before the show was to air. Having no other replacement, CBS threw it on TV, and, defying all expectations, it became an instant holiday classic.
Its success in 1965 led to a series of Peanuts TV specials for the next forty years (including one, made in 2006, featured a pre-Twilight Taylor Lautner). It also first featured the now-iconic “Linus and Lucy” theme by Vince Guaraldi, and helped cement Peanuts firmly into pop-culture. And, I would argue that it set the tone and the bar for all other TV Christmas specials that followed.
In an ironic twist, A Charlie Brown Christmas has become incredibly commercialized around the holiday season. In some ways, that bothers be (though, I have to admit, I do own a Charlie Brown Christmas tree). Despite that, this special is not diluted. It never will be. It is truly timeless, does not resort to cheap gimmicks to get its point across, and does not give into the temptation to dumb itself down. It is the epitome of a true holiday classic.
And isn’t that what Christmas specials are all about?