For me, it’s all about the tree.
A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired 53 years ago, on December 9th, 1965. It’s aired every year since then, often twice a year. For me, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas is as much of a holiday tradition as wrapping presents, decorating the house, and checking the weather forecast for snow. I’ve watched every year since I was eight years old and I bet I’m not the only one.
A Charlie Brown Christmas begins with Charlie Brown telling Linus that he just doesn’t understand Christmas. Even though he enjoys the presents and the tree and all the traditions, he still always ends up feeling depressed. Charlie says that he just doesn’t feel the way that he’s supposed to. (Was this the first Christmas special to acknowledge that the holidays can be a difficult time for some people?) Linus says that Charlie Brown is the only person who can turn a wonderful holiday like Christmas into a problem. From someone who spends every Halloween in a pumpkin patch, that’s a bold statement.
No one seems to have the Christmas spirit. Lucy is upset because she never gets real estate. Sally asks Santa Claus for tens and twenties. Snoopy is so busy decorating his doghouse that he doesn’t even go after the Red Baron. Even when Charlie agrees to direct the Christmas pageant, everyone’s more interested in dancing than getting into the holiday spirit.
Look at Pigpen go! Snoopy and Schroeder get all the attention but Pigpen’s keeping up with them on the double bass.
Charlie Brown and Linus leave rehearsals to go find a Christmas tree. Charlie’s supposed to pick the best tree they have, a big, pink, aluminum one. Instead, Charlie picks the only authentic, real tree on the lot. It’s a tiny sapling that looks half-dead and which leaves needles on the ground. When Linus says that everyone’s expecting something bigger, Charlie says that the tree just needs some decorations.
That’s why I love A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s all about the tree. It’s all about faith.
It’s not just the faith that Linus talks about when he later explains the true meaning of Christmas, though that’s certainly a huge part of it. (Charles Schulz had to fight to be allowed to include Linus’s famous telling of the Christmas story, as there were fears that the religious content would turn off viewers. Cleverly, Schulz made the story a key part of the special’s climax, so there was no way that the network could cut it.) It’s also Charlie Brown’s faith that, even if he doesn’t full understand Christmas, he can still make that tree into something special.
At first, when Charlie Brown attempts to put on decoration on the tree, it tips over and he says that he’s killed it.
But then Linus comes along and he sees what Charlie Brown saw in that tree and, with a little help from his friends and his blanket, they bring the tree back to life.
Life may never be easy but with “a little love,” even the least impressive of things can become something glorious. A Charlie Brown Christmas isn’t just about Schulz’s religious faith. It’s also about the faith that the world can be made a better place, for trees, beagles, and round-headed kids. Lucy might even finally get her real estate.
For the second time this year, A Charlie Brown Christmas will be airing on ABC tonight. I’ll be watching.