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.
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.
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.”
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.
And a Merry Christmas to all . . . and to all, a Good Night.
Next time–The Grinch . . . and how he stole Christmas.