“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.”
We’ve all been there before. Sometimes the holidays can bring you down. Some years are a little harder than others to grab onto that Christmas spirit. But, if we’ve learned anything from the Peanuts gang, it’s that it’s never impossible. Often you can find the magic of Christmas when you’re least expecting it.
A Charlie Brown Christmas begins with the now classic “Christmas Time Is Here”, a song written for the animated film by Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi. The lyrics claim that children view the holiday as “their favorite time of the year”. But, as we quickly learn from Charlie Brown, this isn’t always the case. Charlie is confused by his unhappiness. He tells Linus, “I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess.” The poor child also thinks no one likes him (which couldn’t be further from the truth). The reasoning is that no one sent him a Christmas card. In reality, most of his friends probably didn’t send anyone a card because they were busy playing in the snow and enjoying their holiday break. Charlie wants more than just days off from school. He wants more than snowball fights and blinking lights. He wants to discover the true meaning of Christmas.
While Charlie wanders his town in search of some real holiday spirit, it’s comical to see his dog, Snoopy, more in the mood than he is. However, as entertaining as the silly little pup is, he’s in it for the wrong reason – money. This bothers Charlie to no end. Much like Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, this child wants nothing to do with the commercialized version of Christmas he sees all around him.
Once Charlie begins directing the Christmas play, he slowly finds happiness. He boldly states “This is one play that’s not going to be commercial”. He certainly stood by his word. The things that bring him joy are what bring most of us joy – friends, music, creativity. When Charlie is involved with something meaningful, his attitude and demeanor changes for the better. Suggesting the play needs a tree is what leads him down a path to the essence of Christmas.
Upon choosing the tiny tree, Charlie says “I think it needs me”, but it’s actually him who needs the tree. He saw something special that others didn’t. Probably because it was beaten down and sad looking, just as he was. Whenever he moves it, the meager thing loses more needles. This doesn’t burden Charlie. He’s determined to decorate the tree and make it work for the play. Even Linus agrees, “maybe it just needs a little more love”, which is exactly what Charlie needs. When the gang comes together and spruces up the starving plant, the smile on Charlie’s face says it all. No more depression. No more wondering what Christmas is about. It turns out he knew all along. During the play he declared, “It’s the spirit of the actors that count”. The spirit of his friends defines Christmas. Their love is the greatest gift of all.
Due to the initial somber tone of the film, and the unusual jazz soundtrack, writer Charles M. Schulz received tons of criticism from producers and the network. He went $20,000 over the budget. He refused to use a laugh track, which was standard during this era. Everyone thought it would bomb. Good grief, were they wrong. Schulz had a vision and determination to create something original. His film marked the first time children were used to voice animated characters. He was adamant about having them sing, instead of a professional choir. These little touches helped the film receive an Emmy and a Peabody award. The soundtrack has sold over 4 million copies in the U.S.
Schulz’s tale also had quite a cultural impact. It basically eliminated the aluminum tree, which was hugely popular in the 1960s. Two years after airing in 1965, the trees were no longer being manufactured.
In the end, Charlie wasn’t such a blockhead after all. And to that we say, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!”
Author: Written by Alan Ritch for the PA Christmas & Gift Show