“I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy.”
Just what is the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown?
In 1965, that’s the age-old question that Peanut’s creator Charles M. Schulz set out to answer.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” premiered December 9, 1965 at 7:30 pm on CBS. For 51 years, this heartwarming holiday special has captured the imagination of children and adults alike. A Christmas-viewing is a tradition in many homes, and for good reason — it’s good, wholesome entertainment for the whole family, and shines a big ol’ light on the true meaning of Christmas.
Here’s an exclusive comic created for TV Guide Magazine to preview “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965:
As his millions of fans long since have discovered, under that inept, ineffectual, bumbling exterior of Charlie Brown’s there beats a heart as soft and sweet as a marshmallow. In the sequence on these pages, drawn exclusively for TV Guide by Charlie’s creator, Charles Schulz, he becomes concerned about the true meaning of Christmas, finally comes up with what he believes is the answer. And despite the skepticism of his friend (?) Lucy, he has faith in it—so much so that he has made it the theme of his first special, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, scheduled for CBS on Dec. 9.
Believe it or not, this Christmas classic (which won an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program, and a Peabody award in 1966) wasn’t a hit with Schulz or CBS before it aired. The so-called “poor drawing”, slow-moving pace, a continuity error and misspelled creator’s name (spelled Schultz in the credits) left everyone thinking this production was destined to sink like a lump of coal in a Christmas stocking.
But thankfully, in the world of television, ratings are what count. And when “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted, nearly 50% of TV viewers were watching. Close to 15 million homes tuned in, making it number two in the ratings (behind Bonanza at #1). Not surprisingly, this prompted an immediately order of more Peanuts specials by the network.
It’s hard now, 51 years later, to imagine anyone speaking disparagingly about what is arguably one of the most beloved Christmas specials of all time. But back then, animator Bill Melendez was shocked at how completely this first Peanuts holiday short was embraced by the public. Said Melendez in the December 4, 1995 issue of The Spokesman Review, “I was stunned. I thought, ‘We must despair for our country! The people have no taste!'”
But there was just something about this child’s-eye lamentation of the over-commercialization of Christmas that struck a chord with viewers. It’s been broadcast annually ever since its premiere in 1965, airing first on CBS until 2000 and on ABC ever since.
It doesn’t top my list of personal holiday favourites, but as you can imagine, the whole idea of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is something I can really get behind. And Schulz slipping in that Bible passage for Linus to read always makes me smile. It’s poignant and fitting, and who could have said it better?
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
And THAT is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. ♥