Why A Charlie Brown Christmas Matters

Written by Bill Thomas on November 28, 2018

This week begins the parade of Christmas shows and specials. This year you can celebrate Christmas with SpongeBob Merry Pants or Doc McStuffins Christmas Special. If you’re feeling bold and crazy, you can celebrate with Samantha Bee and her Full Frontal: Christmas on Ice.  You read it correctly. This is some of what is passing for celebrating Christmas 2018.

It’s not all as superfluous as this, though. On December 6th there will be another showing of the classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Airing annually since December 9, 1965, Charlie Brown’s quest to discover the true meaning of Christmas takes him through a psychiatric help session with Lucy, a school play no one really cares about doing and the selection of a paltry, sad tree that withers in no time. Exasperated and dejected, Charlie throws his hands up in the air and asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus answers by reading from Luke 2 about the birth of Jesus concluding, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

There are important principles found in this little classic. First, Santa Claus never makes an appearance in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie helps his sister Sally write a letter to St. Nick, but unlike other Christmas classics where Santa is essential, his absence here doesn’t diminish the story.

Additionally, this show tackles some relevant issues, namely commercialization. For instance, Lucy loves “that beautiful sound of clanking nickels” while Sally is perfectly content with “10s and 20s.” Charlie’s dog Snoopy completely overhauls his doghouse to win “money, money, money!” in the neighborhood lighting contest. Finally, Charlie Brown is told that the Christmas tree he’s going to purchase for the play must be “shiny.”

Probably the single most important reason why this show is a classic and, in my opinion, the most important Christmas special on the December calendar is that it unashamedly celebrates what Christmas is about. Linus’ reading of Luke 2 is a powerful moment in television. It is part of the fabric of the Christmas season for many people. The debate about whether to include that scripture reading is fascinating and not widely known.

During the making of the show, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz had a meeting with Lee Mendelson, the show’s producer, and Bill Melendez, its lead animator about Schulz’s insistence to include a New Testament reading of the Christmas story. Mendelson and Melendez both voiced their concern about the reading. Mendelson said, “Nobody had ever animated anything from the Bible before, and we knew it probably wouldn’t work. We were flabbergasted by it.” Melendez added, “It’s very dangerous for us to start talking about religion now.” Schulz answered him by saying, “Bill, if we don’t, who will?

That debate was in 1965 when that cartoon debuted. Later, Mendelson acknowledged that Linus’s segment probably made the entire project work. “That 10-year-old kid who recited that speech from the Bible was as good as any scene from Hamlet.

Why does this fifty-three-year-old television special still matter? Because standing up for what Christmas is all about is still important. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council writes in a November 26, 2018 column, “If you think the malls are busy at Christmas, you should see the attorneys! From mangers to pageants, the secular crowd is already gearing up for another flurry of complaints about anything remotely religious.

The media and progressives, of course, deny there is any attack. They mock and ridicule those who suggest there is.  A 2017 editorial in the St. Louis Post Dispatch called concern about this a “hoked-up issue.” The same editorial, however, celebrated a Pew Survey that found “fewer Americans celebrating Christmas as a religious, rather than a cultural holiday. And while 56 percent of those polled say the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less in American society today than in the past, relatively few are bothered by this trend. 

President Trump and his administration have sought to reverse this trend. At the ceremony lighting the National Christmas Tree last year, the President said, “The Christmas story begins 2,000 years ago with a mother, a father, their baby son and the most extraordinary gift of all — the gift of God’s love for all of humanity.

It’s not just about saying “Merry Christmas,” putting up a nativity scene in the town square or singing “Silent Night” at the elementary school program. These things matter and are worth fighting for, but there is something much deeper and more profound at the heart of Christmas. Sometimes it gets lost in the tinsel, paper and bows, but it shouldn’t. Sometimes legislators and courts try to outlaw it, but they haven’t ever been able to eradicate it. It’s the simple message Linus read. It begins, “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus.  It’s the message of hope, life and peace. It’s the message of Jesus. The Peanuts gang reminds us of that each year. I’ll be watching, and I hope you will, too.


Bill Thomas
Bill Thomas lives in Washington, Missouri and is a professor at St. Louis Christian College. He's also on staff at First Christian Church in Washington, Missouri. He's authored two novellas, From the Ashes and The Sixty-First Minute published by White Feather Press of MI and three Bible studies, Surrounded by Grace, The Critical Questions and More and The Road to Victory published by CSS Publishing of OH.