After 56 Years, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ Still Offers the True Meaning of Christmas
‘That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.’ —Linus Van Pelt
Once again, this Christmas season, a boy who doesn’t go anywhere without his blue blanket is sharing the Gospel message of Christ’s birth with millions.
Linus’s recitation from the first chapter of Luke is the high point of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the beloved holiday TV special that continues to captivate viewers of all ages 56 years after its premiere.
I think the show’s continued popularity even in our secular age reveals that many are trying to find meaning in this season and are not opposed to hearing a child character tell the Christmas story in beautiful simplicity.
In A Charlie Brown Christmas Charlie Brown is disillusioned with materialism during the holiday season. His friends try to cheer him up by asking him to direct their Christmas play, but it doesn’t go well so he decides a Christmas tree might help. He chooses a small fragile tree, the only one on the tree lot that’s not made of aluminum. As Charlie Brown still wonders about the real meaning of Christmas, Linus gives the biblical account.
The 25-minute show’s writer and Peanuts comic-strip creator Charles Schulz was concerned that the Christmas story was not being included in many of the children’s Christmas shows of the 1960s and he was determined to keep it in the script, according to Wikipedia.
CBS executives initially weren’t impressed with the show because they thought its message was too blatant and that it should have a laugh track, according to IMDB. They also thought viewers might not like that it included both a jazz score and traditional Christmas music. But it was too late to cancel. The show, commissioned and sponsored by Coca-Cola, was already scheduled to air the following week on Dec. 9, 1965.
For a show that network executives had taken a chance on — which was written quickly and produced on a short timeline with a small budget — they were amazed at its high ratings.
It wasn’t the first time an underdog surpassed expectations. In the Bible, a man who has difficulty speaking (Moses) leads a nation, a youth kills a giant, and outnumbered armies defeat their better-equipped opponents. Charlie Brown, who perpetually lacks confidence, is himself an unlikely hero.
A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first show of its kind to use child instead of adults for character voices. Cathy Steinberg was 6 years old when she did the voice of Charlie Brown’s sister Sally and she hadn’t yet learned to read. She was given her lines, sometimes a word or syllable at a time.
Generations of kids watched the show on broadcast TV until Apple TV+ purchased exclusive rights to the Peanuts specials in 2020. Apple planned to run the program on its platform rather than broadcast TV for the first time, according to Wikipedia. The show would be available for free on its platform during a brief window and beyond that only for subscribers. After more than 260,000 fans signed a petition, Apple agreed to sponsor both the Christmas and Thanksgiving specials on public broadcasting stations in 2020, according to an article that originally appeared in the Charlotte Observer.
This year, Apple has again sponsored the Thanksgiving and Christmas shows on PBS, along with the Halloween show, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Even if the country seems so divided, Charlie Brown, Linus and all the Peanuts gang still bring us together with the Gospel. Merry Christmas!