RTBN 25 Days of Christmas: Day Three
Day Three: A Charlie Brown Christmas
RTBN 25 Days of Christmas is the RTBN staff's irreverent exploration of our collective holiday pop culture traditions.

It's impossible to discuss A Charlie Brown Christmas in a vacuum. It was the first television special for the Peanuts, and part of the trend popularizing Christmas specials on television in general. It has become so iconic that it is likely the first thing you think about when anyone mentions Charles Schulz's legendary comic strip. It has given our cultural lexicon everything from The Vince Guaraldi Trio's "Christmas Time is Here" to the image of a small sapling, the runt of a Christmas tree litter, weighed down by a single ornament.

The special also gave us "Linus and Lucy," the piano theme that is indelibly linked to every Peanuts production since (and is the first thing I ever learned to play on the piano), and is credited in some circles with causing the death of the aluminum Christmas tree (which ceased being produced less than two years after receiving negative treatment in A Charlie Brown Christmas. But perhaps more than anything, it gave us the central question dozens of specials and films have played with from numerous angles ever since. It asked us, "What is Christmas all about?"

A Charlie Brown Christmas follows the titular character as he becomes disillusioned with the commercialization of the season and agrees to direct a Nativity play to get his sense of Christmas spirit back. As someone who is not religious, the resolution to his search leaves something to be desired, to be sure. Yet the special does not end with Linus' proselytizing (as adorable and heartwarming as it is when he says "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown," I could still do without the Bible verses).

For some of us, Christmas is about religion. It is, after all, a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus, and before that it was a Pagan holiday celebrating Winter Solstice. Those of you who are religious, or even spiritual, may be more moved by the episode's Biblical center than I am. Yet I imagine you are no less moved by what happens after. Charlie Brown leaves the auditorium to decorate his meager tree alone, away from the crass commercialization he finds all around him. But a single ornament is enough to break it. Nothing goes well in the life of Charlie Brown, and even his kindest gestures tend to end in failure. But not this time. Moved by his plight and Linus' speech, the whole Peanuts gang gathers to fix the tree and decorate it properly, before singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and cheering "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" The special, then, ends with a hopeful message, telling us that if we gather with those we love, and if we try to create happiness, even out of our failings, the holiday season can be special, regardless of your belief system and absent even a hint of commercialization. To me, and to generations of children who have seen this special (which is still run in Prime Time at least twice every year, some 47 years after its first airing) and come to love it as I do, that is what Christmas is all about.

Tomorrow on RTBN 25 Days of Christmas:

Jordan takes a look at a particular genre of Christmas villain, and at one of its most iconic representations in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
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