You’re a good show, Charlie Brown Christmas!

Fifty years on, the animated cartoon still captures the reason for the season.
Carolyn Moynihan | Dec 18 2015 | comment  




A Charlie Brown Christmas by atsau

 

What is the essence of Christmas? For 50 years a simple cartoon movie has captured the answer for Americans of all ages: Christmas is not Christmas without something like a real tree to decorate, carols to sing and, above all, the story of the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Without these vital elements the annual celebration can be, as Peanuts anti-hero Charlie Brown confessed decades ago, depressing. In the 1965 television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, neither tinsel, lights, snowmen or even rehearsing the Christmas play (which keeps turning into a jazz and jive session) can lift the gloom that settles on Charlie as those around him make their own fun.

Money-grubbing psychiatrist, Lucy, with her eye on “real estate” is no help. Finding that his own little sister wants 10 and 20 dollar bills from Santa Claus deepens Charlie’s disgust with the commercialism and superficiality he finds everywhere.

It’s only when he is despatched to the store to get “the biggest shiny aluminium Christmas tree he can find” that events take a positive turn. There’s one little wooden pine tree among all the gaudy kitsch and Charlie recognises it as a key to the elusive meaning of Christmas.

Finally all becomes clear and joyous as Linus declaims St Luke’s account of the Nativity by heart (having earlier insisted that he could not learn a script like that). Charlie’s tree, finding its proper place in the snow, is decorated and admired, the cast wish him “Merry Christmas!”, and all gather round to sing “Hark, the herald angels…”.

"There will always be an audience for innocence in this country," said Charles Schulz, and five decades of Peanuts cartoons proved him right. In the case of A Charlie Brown Christmas, an essential part of that innocence for Schultz was the religious meaning – and snow! -- central to his own experience. In the 1960s, according to researcher Stephen Lind, less than 9 percent of television Christmas episodes contained a substantive reference to religion.

Television executives hated it from the start. They found it slow and lacking in energy. It was too religious. It featured jazz – offbeat for a cartoon (Schultz already thought jazz was “awful”). It did not have a laugh track. It used the voices of real children, only some of them professionally trained. Schulz himself thought the whole thing was a disaster due to the crude animation. But it was an instant hit with viewers and reviewers alike: 

Viewers weren’t nearly as cynical about Charlie Brown’s holiday woes as his corporate benefactors. Preempting a 7:30 p.m. EST episode of The Munsters, A Charlie Brown Christmas pulled a 50 share, meaning half of all households with a television turned on were watching it. (That amounted to roughly 15 million people, behind only Bonanza.) CBS finally acknowledged it was a winner, but not without one of the executives getting in one last dig and telling [executive producer Lee] Mendelson that his “aunt in New Jersey didn’t like it.”

One welcome spinoff was the death of the aluminium Christmas tree. First marketed in 1958 they were virtually extinct by 1969. Best of all, ritual annual viewings of the show help to keep the word “Christmas” in circulation, when the trend is to submerge it in “holiday” greetings and other references.

You’re a good show, Charlie Brown Christmas. Congratulations on your 50th birthday, and many happy returns!



This article is published by Carolyn Moynihan and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

comments powered by Disqus
Follow MercatorNet
Facebook
Twitter
MercatorNet RSS feed
subscribe to newsletter
Sections and Blogs
Harambee
PopCorn
Conjugality
Careful!
Family Edge
Sheila Reports
Reading Matters
Demography Is Destiny
Bioedge
Conniptions
Connecting
Above
Vent
From the Editor
Information
contact us
our ideals
our People
our contributors
Mercator who?
partner sites
audited accounts
donate
advice for writers
privacy policy
New Media Foundation
Suite 12A, Level 2
5 George Street
North Strathfield NSW 2137
Australia

editor@mercatornet.com
+61 2 8005 8605
skype: mercatornet

© New Media Foundation 2019 | powered by Encyclomedia | designed by Elleston