I must have been about two or three years old. I remember sitting under a Christmas tree, opening a present, and it was night-time, and I'd just managed to score a nice collection of Hot Wheels. The television was on, showing some strange-looking boy with a big, fat head looking miserable. Beside him, a little white dog was busy decking his doghouse with Christmas ornaments and lights.
That was the first time I can recall watching A Charlie Brown Christmas.
To this day, almost fifty years later, I never miss it. Of all the Christmas cartoons in the world to get hooked on, it has to be A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now yes, maybe there's still a place in my heart for How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but for the past few decades, I've seen them more as Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder.
It's hard for me to watch "Grinch" for example, and hear Boris Karloff narrate why the green monster hates Christmas:
The first thing that comes to my mind these days is that this sounds like a fatality in the making, and the Grinch really has more dire problems besides a lot of Who-singing and Who-feasting. Also, the whole idea that little Cindy Lou Who, who is no more than two, innocently asks the Grinch, in his fake Santa outfit, why he's taking their Christmas tree - but doesn't think to inquire as to why he's also taking the food, the decorations, the presents, the lights, the log for the fire, etc.
And, wait. Cindy Lou Who?
Are the Whos all one great big family or inbred...?
The same with "Rudolph". I can't really watch that show anymore because in my mind, all I can think of is how the elves, who dwell in conformity and single-mindedness, can't be bothered with poor Hermie and his dreams of dentistry. In a world where Santa Claus is supposed to make wishes come true for little children across the globe, he doesn't seem to give a damn about the staff. I always thought Hermie should have just smashed that toy wagon to bits, jumped up on the table, and held up a sign that said "Unionize".
That'd show them.
But no, A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of those delightful favorites I can't point and laugh at. I can't ridicule it, or make silly comments. There is something about this show that really hits home for me.
I was Charlie Brown in many ways. When I was really young, I didn't have a lot of friends, I was lousy at baseball, in fact most sports, and Christmastime, though it should have been such a joyous occasion, was for me more like a reason to have the family together to eat and enjoy presents from Santa Claus.
Oh sure, when I was a bit older we enjoyed Christmas Eve nights at church to sing carols and light candles to take home. But when you're a kid, you really don't...I don't know, get what Christmas is all about. And to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, for me, is like looking into my own childhood. Yes, I went with my folks to buy a tree many times. We'd shiver in the cold under the glare of those gigantic spotlights and watch my Dad negotiate for a good price. I even took part in a few Christmas plays. One I'll never forget is when our grade performed "The Twelve Days of Christmas". We couldn't find anyone willing to part with five golden rings, so in a desperate moment of ingenuity, one of the kids remembered there was a McDonalds around the corner. We got one order of onion rings to go and, viola, the show was saved.
And when you really look at A Charlie Brown Christmas, I mean, pull it apart like you were a screenwriter, the script itself is...well, horrible. I mean, it's really, really bad. We start out with the kids ice skating, playing games, catching snowflakes on their tongues (something you couldn't pay me to do in this day and age), and just being kids. We meet Charlie Brown for the first time in living color on our television sets, and he's unhappy. To him, Christmas has become a commercialized event lauded by decorations, presents, trees, and big sales. It's lost meaning for him. He knows he's supposed to be happy, but he just can't understand why.
Lucy van Pelt gets Charlie to direct their school play. Then the script just goes downhill from there into a morass of dancing, music, a few interludes, and Christmas tree shopping. We never really see any of the play, and that's too bad, because it seemed like it would be fun. We know it was going to be about the birth of Jesus Christ, and how Mary and Joseph stayed in an innkeeper's old tent because he didn't have room for them and...well, you know the story.
Okay, so we don't get to see the play. Charlie Brown is even more depressed than ever, and finally implores anyone to tell him what Christmas is all about.
I think it is at this point of the show that everyone around the country watching the broadcast probably just stops talking - and listens.
Linus nails it. From this point until the show is over, when the kids are gathered around a small Christmas tree and singing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing", Christmas suddenly has a whole new meaning to us all. Forget the presents, forget Santa, forget the lights, the stage plays, any other reason you can think of save one very important one - of which Linus courteously reminds us.
And that's why A Charlie Brown Christmas is such a timeless classic. When Charles M. Schultz first brought this to life with the help of producer Lee Mendelson and director Bill Melendez, I can only imagine he wanted to bring a little of his St. Paul, Minnesota childhood into the picture, and mix in some good old fashioned, wholesome family values.
It doesn't matter if someone is a Christian or not. Christmas is truly about one thing - the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, mixed in with the first few official days of winter. And even if Jesus wasn't actually born on Christmas Day, as many scholars still claim, it doesn't make a bit of difference. We don't have to recognize someone's birthday on the exact day. Be honest. How many of you ever had a "birthday" party before or after your official birthday? Probably all of you.
So what if we're a few weeks or months late with this particular birthday? And just maybe celebrating the birth of such an amazing person, who taught the whole world how to be loving and peaceful, should frankly be an all-year, everyday event.
A Charlie Brown Christmas to this day still gets to me in a way no other Christmas special does. It brings me back to my childhood, and helps me realize why I nearly break my neck each year getting presents, trimming the Christmas tree, helping make food, and gathering with friends and family.
How blessed we truly would be if we remembered this important day all year round.
Then there really would be peace on Earth and good will towards all.
Have a really wonderful Christmas!