A Charlie Brown Christmas . . . Classic.

 

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In the entire history of the human race and mankind, there is very little that approaches perfection. A few works of art, several timelessly classic books, quite a bit of classical music, several vintage TV shows . . . and one television special.

A Christmas special.

It was called A Charlie Brown Christmas, and since it was first telecast way back on December 9, 1965 on CBS, it has defined a holiday and become a Christmas tradition for millions the world over.

Not bad for a round-headed kid with a bad sweater.

In the opening, a very depressed Charlie Brown goes off in search of the true meaning of Christmas. The commercialization of Christmas, it seems, has struck everywhere, with even Snoopy affected.

The birth of the baby Jesus, has been completely forgotten.

Lucy, at her five-cent psychiatric stand, suggests that Charlie direct a Christmas play to regain the spirit, but he is both ignored and mocked by his peers. As always, it seems that poor old Charlie just can’t get anything right.

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According to Wikipedia, Peanuts had become a worldwide phenomenon by the mid-1960’s, and the special was commissioned and sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company. It was written over a period of several weeks, and animated on a shoestring budget in only six weeks.

It was darned awfully well-done, for being fast work.

The producers went an unconventional route, hiring child-actors to provide voice for the animated characters. It featured a jazz score by pianist Vince Guaraldi. It’s absence of a laugh track (a staple of the time) in addition to it’s tone, pacing, music, and animation, led both the producers and network to incorrectly envision the project as a disaster preceding it’s broadcast.

When you’re wrong, it’s nice to miss by a country mile.

It seemed that finally, thanks to a peanut-sized gang of kids, a beagle with attitude, and since the birth of television only two decades or so before, the medium was finally beginning to grow up, and respect it’s audience to understand and appreciate quality.

A Charlie Brown Christmas received high ratings and acclaim from critics. It has since been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award. It has become an annual broadcast ever since, and most likely will be, until the end of time. ABC currently holds the rights to the special, and broadcasts it at least twice during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The show engendered a new term–a Charlie Brown Tree.

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Charlie buys a dilapidated tree, the only real one on the lot. It is nearly a single branch, with it’s few remaining needles rapidly falling out. Charlie figures the tree needs him ( I have bought plants for the very same reason ever since) and buys it to use in the play. He thinks that once decorated, it will serve well. As usual, the gang disagrees, and once again ridicules poor old Charlie near to death.

Left alone on the darkened stage, abandoned even by Snoopy, Charlie’s one true best friend Linus remains behind, and in one of television’s most poignant moments, explains to Charlie the true meaning of Christmas.

He reads from the Bible.

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
12And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill toward men.”

Linus concludes . . .

“. . . and that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

Charlie decides to take the little tree home and decorate it. On the way he stops by Snoopy’s way over-decorated and commercialized dog house and picks up a bulb. Placing it on a limb, it sags precipitously, causing Charlie to exclaim, “I’ve killed it.”

tree

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He hasn’t.  The rest of the gang, re-considering their position, and following Charlie, arrive on the scene–just in time to save the tree–and Charlie’s spirit. They all throw in, decorate the tree to a fare-thee-well, and conclude the special by joining in together to sing a chorus of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, in a darkened, star-lighted and snow covered dreamscape, as the credits roll.

Even after all these long years, and countless viewings, it still brings a small lump to my throat. If your Christmas spirit is waning, just as Charlie’s was, forty-nine years ago this year, let me suggest a prescription for you.

Two viewings of A Charlie Brown Christmas . . . and write a note to Santa in the morning.

It might be just what the doctor ordered.

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And a Merry Christmas to all . . . and to all, a Good Night.

 

Next time–The Grinch . . . and how he stole Christmas.

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Christmases Past . . . Memories are made of this.

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It always starts around Thanksgiving day, and lasts until New Year. And the dream is always the same. It’s the family–the old family–the first family. And we are all together again . . . for Christmas.

Death, and time, have no power here.

In the dream, either at night or day, we gather once again around the Christmas tree and yule log. I have no memory of their passing–or of their funerals. It is all normal and natural–the way it was.  We all just are.

I am home.

And it was a good one. Ed and Ruby made it so.

My Family

That’s Ed (dad) at the top of the photo. And Ruby (mom) holds me. I’m probably two years old, or maybe a little less. Sister Lorraine (Gene) is at the left, and brother Dale at the bottom. Dale and I are still around, although neither of us are exactly spring chickens anymore.

Everyone else is gone on to glory. Those in the photo, and the others who gathered every Christmas Eve and day in the old homestead back in Walled Lake, Michigan.

They were a sterling bunch. Grandpa Reuben and Grandma Elsie (my mother’s parents) Ruby’s sister Geri, Geri’s best friend Violet, and every once in a great while, mom’s brother Kenneth.

They were good people all, and fun–and nice. At least until the drinking started. But then–that’s what makes all the wonderful memories (and great stories) fifty plus years later.

Mom was a once a year drinker–the rest of the year as dry as an Arizona riverbed. And her drink of choice–sloe gin fizzes. Made her own way . . . which was, sloe gin and Squirt. Not even close to the way the libation is supposed to be constructed, but she didn’t much care. She loved them–but only that one single night of the year–Christmas eve. I was born back in 1949, just about nine months after Christmas eve. Mom was 43 years old.

Once a year drunkenness sometimes has it’s consequences. And brother, did she ever get plastered.

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Dad fought his own Christmas-time alcohol demons. He loved fruitcakes. I swear to you he was normal in every other way, but he just loved the stupid fruitcakes. Or, rather more precisely, he loved them the way he made them–as in, soaked in rum.

He’d start about a month before Christmas and make about a half dozen of the things. Then he would wrap them in foil and put them in a separate refrigerator out back in the storeroom and start soaking them with the rum. He lovingly peeled back the foil tops and poured on the booze–and no small amount either–the fruitcakes soaking it up like giant sponges. He added rum daily, and by the time Christmas Eve came, they were hitting around a hundred and fifty proof or so.

But trust me–they were also darned good. They were the living embodiment of that age-old expression . . . a little bit goes a long way.

The gift opening and party were all on Christmas Eve. No one drove anywhere, so it was alright. There was plenty of food too. Nuts and popcorn, chips with spread, cheese-balls, pickles, olives, ham slices, tons and tons of various candy. And oh yeah, some fruit and veggie-sticks for the few that had some common sense, or whose stomach had given out.

Along with the rum and sloe gin were plenty of good old-fashioned Canadian whiskey and American sour-mash. Perhaps a splash or two of Vodka as well, for Dale’s much loved black russians.

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The arguments and fights would start around midnight. Mostly between Geri and Vi, with someone else throwing in with one side or the other every once in awhile. Seemingly important at the time, they were laughed at the next day, or more likely completely forgotten. None of it ever came to anything and we were all too goofy a drunks to ever get really violent.

It was all part of the floorshow–and part of the Caplin family weird fun.

No one went hungry or thirsty. Looking back, it’s a wonder no one ever died either. We all packed off to bed around two in the morning, drunk as skunks. The next morning, mom and dad were up early, despite massive hangovers, to start the Christmas day feast. No (or very little) drinking on Christmas day. And a feast it was. As you might imagine, coffee was the very first menu item available. And in large quantities too. Mom had a thirty-five cup percolator. She liked it hot and strong. It would not only put hair on your chest, but part it down the middle as well.

She generally served a ham and a turkey–sometimes a roast as well. And all the trimmings. Something for every taste at the table. We had leftovers for a week.

Everyone left for home by late afternoon, surfeited. Mom allowed herself a week of so or rest and recuperation.

And then she started planning the next years party. It was wonderful, weird and amazingly fun, when our gloriously dysfunctional family got together in late December.

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All in all, we were a pretty strange bunch, with our unusual Christmas traditions. I thought the traditions, and the family as well, would go on forever. Of course, neither did. To tell you the truth, these days the drinking I can (and do) completely do without.

The family? .  . well, let’s just say I miss them all so much it goes beyond hurt. It’s the pain of an abscessed tooth–three hundred and sixty five days a year.

Love you guys. If the Universe has any order or sense, or purpose at all . . . I’ll see you all again.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas dear ones.

And to you all as well.

Ivy

Next time . . . a classic.  A Charlie Brown Christmas.

 

 

 

 

December 25th . . . Christ’s Birthday?

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Well . . . probably not.

The image is iconic. A snow covered landscape. A soft-focus night, well lighted by the stars. Especially that great big one–hanging right over the manger–which of course, is beautifully softly candle-lighted. There is peace. There is tranquility. There is love . . . along with little drummer boys, presiding angels, and a fair share of talking animals.

It is the night of the Savior’s birth. December 25th–right?

Wrong.

Is it even possible that December 25th could be the day of Christ’s birth? After all, any day would have a one in three-hundred and sixty-five chance of being correct–right?

Well . . . no.

A careful reading of existing scripture clearly indicates that December 25th is a most unlikely date for Christ’s birth. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, we know that shepherds were in the fields, watching over their flocks at the time. Not something that happens in December in this part of the world. December in Judea is both cold and rainy. Instead of watching over them in the fields, shepherds seek dry and warm shelter during this month. This snippet of scripture suggest a spring, summer, or even autumn date as being far more likely for the holy event.

Second, we know that Jesus’ parents came to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census. Such censuses were not taken in the winter months. It was far too difficult for people to travel during those wet and colds times when dirt roads were not in very good shape. Much more likely in the spring, summer, or fall.

It’s pretty well known that December 25th was a pagan holiday, co-opted for reuse after Jesus’ earthly life was over and Christianity began to grow and spread, and newly minted Christians wanted to celebrate the birth of the savior.

It was a handy date.

Prior to and throughout the early Christian centuries, winter festivals, especially those centered on the winter solstice, were extremely popular in European cultures. After all, what better cure for the wintertime blues than a party? December 25th was a good one, with winter just beginning a few days before. The celebration was a sort of internal psychological fortification against the coming months of darkness, and adverse cold and snowy weather conditions.

Combining the dark of December festival with the birth of Christ–perfect.

But when did the birth actually happen?

Who knows?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints more or less (they don’t advertise it) believes the exact date of Christ’s birth is April 6th. This by a process of divine revelation. Is it accurate? Could be–it definitely fits within the possible timeframes.

Many other biblical scholars pick a later date, based on a careful reading of the Jewish Torah, and a study of the birth date of John the Baptist, of which a little more is known. Seems that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, according to the great book, in the sixth month of John’s mother’s pregnancy. Since we pretty much know when John was born, it is not too difficult to calculate a birth date for Jesus of September 15th.

Is this one correct? Again, it has a good chance of being right, as it also fits within the proper timeframes.

Will we ever know for sure? Well, probably not, at least until we all, one by one, get to pass through the veil and ask him face to face.

That is, assuming we will be facing him and not someone else of a far less benevolent nature.

In the meantime, the 25th of December seems to work just fine . . . for Christians, Muslims, Atheists, and Jews, or just about anyone else that enjoys a really good party, just before the long dark, and dreary months of hard Winter to follow.

It’s only a few weeks away. Hope your preparations are going okay. Mine, well . . . not so much. One of my customers asked me yesterday if I were ready for Christmas. I replied that I wasn’t even ready for last Christmas yet!

But that’s part of the fun. Getting ready, and never quite making it. Here’s hoping you all have a great one–with love of family and friends, way too much wonderful food and treats, and of course, the light of Christ throughout.

Coming up in the next few days . . . a nostalgic look at Christmases past–the ones with well-loved family.  Many may be long gone now, but they still live on in our hearts, especially at this time of year.

Maybe it’s time they made a brief (but funny) re-appearance. Could be amusing. We’ll see.

Take care and have a great day now . . .

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