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A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)


It's Christmas time in the Peanuts neighborhood and all the kids are getting into what they think is the spirit of the season. All that is, except poor Charlie Brown, who finds himself unsure of how to feel about the impending holiday. After consulting Lucy's “psychiatric help,” she suggests that Charlie Brown act as the director for the class Christmas play. He accepts, hoping the involvement will help him find the holiday cheer he has been missing. Can Charlie Brown keep all the other kids in line and finally understand what the Christmas spirit really is?


A Charlie Brown Christmas is an animated holiday special based on the Peanuts comic written by Charles Shultz. The idea for the special was originally given to both Shultz and his to be producer, Lee Mendleson, by way of the Coca-Cola Company. Shultz and Mendleson had originally approached the company hoping to get financial backing to produce a documentary film based on the Peanuts comic. Coca-Cola agreed on the condition that Shultz and Mendleson make a Peanuts-themed Christmas special first. Shutlz and Mendleson went through with the deal, and after six months of production the special was aired on CBS on December 9, 1965.



Charles Shultz wrote the script while Bill Mendenz acted as lead animator and director of the special. Coca Cola gave them a budget of just seventy-six thousand dollars to complete the special. Though by the end of production they were twenty thousand dollars over budget. With the cast composed entirely of child actors and a strange mix of jazzy Christmas themed music (composed by Vince Guaraldi), A Charlie Brown Christmas was already setting itself up to be a unique special. The film was completed just 10 days before its scheduled air date. Both Mendleson and the CBS network executives feared that the short would be a disaster. However, much to their surprise, the general audience loved it. To the point that the special received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program a year later.


Despite its rushed development, the staying power that this special seems to have cannot be denied. Even after fifty years, families still watch it as part of celebrating the Christmas season. The film's soundtrack is played in multiple Christmas themed radio stations and tons of Peanuts merchandise based on this special are sold this time of year.

 Having grown up watching this special with my family, I never really understood the wide appeal it had. I liked it, and Christmas would never be the same if I didn't watch it at least once, but I never really understood why everyone else loved it so much. The animation really isn't that great when you compare it to other animated Christmas specials, and it wasn't the funniest piece to ever come from Charles Shultz genius comic writing.


However, after re-watching it with more of an open mind and finding out more about its history, I think I finally get what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas so great. It isn't just because of the theme of finding the true meaning of Christmas or the daring it took to include a recitation of the Bible, but of how those elements gave a simple yet heartfelt take on the Christmas season that really isn't touched upon all that often.

Like with most Peanut stories, the short starts off with Charlie Brown feeling down on himself. Mainly due to the fact that everyone he knows is telling him he should be happy that Christmas is coming. Yet no matter how much he may want to be enjoy the holiday, he simply can't. It's easy to forget that even though the Peanuts characters can speak like adults, they are still just kids. Charlie Brown is no different.  He is trying to piece together what the holiday means to him despite all the different opinions the other kids give him. It is only after Linus recites the Bible, that Charlie Brown finally makes his own decision on what he enjoys about Christmas the most. Deciding to take his tiny Christmas tree home and decorate it no matter what the other kids may say.


It is here, I realised, what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas so endearing. So many Christmas specials talk about how the act of giving gifts trumps receiving them and how Christmas is a time to cherish all that you have in your life. However, A Charlie Brown Christmas manages to give a simple but very powerful representation of the Christmas spirit. The simple act of being inspired by a story of kindness and using that inspiration as a force of goodwill.




We never see what happens with the Christmas pageant at the end of the short, and honestly, we don't need to. Charlie Brown found the answer he was looking for. He even took it a step further by going through with his original idea of decorating the tiny tree, even after the other kids berated him for it. In fact, the other kids follow him home and are inspired by his new found determination. So when he falters, they step in to help and make it a Christmas that Charlie Brown certainly won't forget.

Though it may have its flaws, A Charlie Brown Christmas holds a special place in the hearts of many, and with good reason. It may not be as complex of a tale as other famous Christmas stories but it managed to show different aspects of the holiday that don't normally get the spotlight. The charm of the Peanuts cast will entertain kids while the adults can enjoy the quieter moments and the message. Much like Charlie Brown's little Christmas tree, there is a simple beauty in this special if you're willing to look for it.




A Charlie Brown Christmas is available on DVD, and a special edition DVD for its 50th Anniversary. It is also included as a part of the Peanuts Holiday Collection.