Stone the crows, it has been a while, hasn’t it? Warmest Christmas greetings to all my good friends, outright enemies, and noncommittal acquaintances! Once again, despite the court orders, I am going to spend this wonderful holiday time to speak about some wonderful holiday entertainment fare. Oh, I know that you cannot contain your joy reading this any more than I can contain my joy writing about you reading this!
By the by, this list is not in any kind of order whatsoever. It isn’t a best to worst, or anything like. These are just Christmas-ish films that have gotten caught in my holiday entertainment dragnet over the years. There might be some TV specials thrown in there as well, so just be forewarned when the commercial interruptions pop in.
These posts will also contain random scattershot thoughts and points about these wonderful holiday movies. I find this way to be the easiest because not following a strict format allows me to be far lazier that usual. (As if that were possible!) The most I can promise is that I won’t be going over any of the films that honed in on the last time I did this.
But soft, let us repair to the wintry whimsical worlds of holiday fare! What is first on my menu of bringing unparalleled Christmas joy to not only those who can read, but also those who struggled to read my hackneyed schtick? Why, it is none other than some arbitrary views on an obscure TV special known as A Charlie Brown Christmas!*
*(Of course, the last time I whipped around taking some slices out of the holiday pie of Christmas films, I did talk a little about A Charlie Brown Christmas during my focus on How The Grinch Stole Christmas . While I might rehash these thoughts just a smidge, rest assured that if I knowingly steal concepts for this blog, I steal them from myself. Yes, you’re welcome. Also, you’re welcome again for my not making you scroll all the way to the bottom for this footnote. Hey, scrolling is tiring, I truly get it.)
I assume that like the 14.9 trillion people on the planet, you’ve already seen this show, so no spoiler alert nonsense on this one, folks. So, let’s get the best shiny aluminum tree we can find at the outdoor tree lot and get going with this!
- This is the one, isn’t it, Peanuts fans? The king of the hill, A number 1, top of the heap. A Charlie Brown Christmas has transcended above all other Peanuts-related specials and films. Remarkable for a humble, not even 30-minute-long TV special that is over 50 years old. Especially when you take into account the kabillion hours of holiday product that the TV networks and film studios and cable stations and streaming services have relentlessly cranked out over the decades. One might love it, one might hate it, but one must admit to the incredible staying power of this special. (So, take that, Dean Martin’s Christmas at Sea World!)
- Charlie Brown is in a holiday funk to be sure. I think we can all relate to what he’s going through, mulling over the point of it all. The Christmas holiday can certainly be a rough ride for some. And keep in mind that this was years before having to deal with McCartney releasing “Wonderful Christmastime”, which is not just the worst Christmas tune, but might just be one of the worst things ever created by mankind. And that’s saying quite a lot I know. After all, McCartney has put some horrible non-Christmas related tunes too.
- Why is no one wondering how a dog can even ice skate, let alone ice skate proficiently? Or place award winning decorations on his doghouse? Or perfectly imitate a vulture or a penguin? Yes, I know it is a cartoon. I get that. But Peanuts ain’t Merrie Melodies, where anthropomorphizing is the rule of the day. Peanuts was always a bit more grounded, at least at this point. It would get a bit further afield with the later introductions of Woodstock and Snoopy’s cousins. At least Snoopy isn’t fighting Germans during The Great War or somehow concocting an entire Thanksgiving feast just yet, but the seeds are planted.
- Are we to just assume that these 7-year-old kids are putting on a Christmas play of their own accord, without any supervision whatsoever? There’s not even some acknowledgment that a teacher let them into the school auditorium after hours to do this. Shouldn’t that teacher be suspended in any case? “Here’s the keys, kids! The stage lights are over there and be sure not to plummet off the stage when rehearsing. Hey, lemme show one of you how to work the spotlight in case you’d like to have a sudden poignant moment to showcase later for whatever reason, okay?”
- For that matter, these kids have done this vague play in some way, shape, or form at even earlier Christmases! We know because Shermy has been typecast as a shepherd because every year it’s the same thing for him. (By the way, whatever happened to Shermy? He used to be a stalwart companion for Chuck in the early goings on in the Peanuts strip, but then Linus comes along and *poof*: no more Shermy. No matter how down we might get about Charlie Brown’s treatment at times, let us never forget how he apparently threw Shermy to the wolves just so he could hang with Linus all the time.)
- Is it sad that when Sally asks for tens and twenties from Santa it has now become a somewhat reasonable request given the current rates of inflation? If you think about it, Santa’s getting off rather cheap. Lucy’s got the right idea with real estate though.
- I would beyond remiss if I didn’t mention Vince Guaraldi’s outstanding music. He and his trio made great music which has been crucial to the success of this and all the Peanuts specials. Even after Guaraldi passed away, his themes have become entwined forevermore with Peanuts. Composers like David Benoit and others go back to the foundational Guaraldi jazz themes because they fit Peanuts so well. The music has become timeless and a part of cultural landscape. If you have a chance, seek out some non-Peanuts albums that he recorded as those tracks also contain excellent jazz. Top marks to Mr. Guaraldi and company for such wonderful music. (Of course, I could do without the seventeen hundred remastered re-releases of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack album, but Vince has had nothing to do with that.)
- As an aside that I’m jamming in here right now, I had the good fortune to see David Benoit’s Christmas tribute to Peanuts and Guaraldi’s music live in Phoenix, AZ. Benoit played the classic Guaraldi tunes and had great guest vocalists Melissa Manchester and Al Jarreau along to sing some of their hits as well as some holiday classics. The best part of the evening was watching my late father, an admitted Benoit fan, standing in line like a nervous fanboy to meet Benoit and get his autograph. I still have that CD that Benoit graciously signed for my father. It is a warm memory that always makes me smile. Whenever I remember that moment, I just want to walk up to my father and say, “Dad, why’d you have him sign the CD? I mean, a CD spins like crazy to play it and it gets awfully hot in some players. You should have handed him the booklet to sign instead.” Ah, now I’m all misty-eyed…
- There is the crushing irony that just screams in your face about how a TV special with a non-commercialization message could be so flagrantly merchandised in the intervening half century and beyond. One would run out of dead cats to swing after hitting all the Peanuts Christmas related material that has been released. Hallmark alone has created a cottage industry by bringing about a bottomless reservoir of Charlie Brown Christmas cards, ornaments, statues, coffee mugs, socks, framed art, toaster cozies, edible underwear, etc. The challenge in going to a Hallmark store now is finding ornaments that don’t have Snoopy on them. (Admittedly, a bigger challenge these days is finding an actual physical Hallmark store to go into, but I sadly digress.)
- The smothering ancillary merchandizing isn’t the special’s fault. Far from it. In fact, the message contained at the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas is very much on point. When Linus literally takes center stage and begins reciting from Luke chapter two, there is no mistaking the focus for Christmas. At that point, the special simply and quietly cuts right through all the garbage, the sidetracking, the parsing, and lays it right in front of you as to what Christmas is all about. And to cement that even further, when Charlie Brown leaves the auditorium, he recalls Linus reciting some of those passages. The message of Christmas isn’t couched or hidden or hinted at or lost in vague notions whatsoever. It hits you right between the eyes.
- Of course, I don’t buy that the tree would end up looking so good even after applying Snoopy’s decorations to it, but by that point, so much good will has been engendered, I’ll let my cynical heart go with the flow on that one. Besides, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing” is my favorite Christmas carol, so the special indeed ends on a high note. And in current video releases of the special, that high note doesn’t include the Coca-Cola bottlers of America, so I’m even more okay with that.
It is remarkable even in today’s climate that this special still gets aired. I’m sure that part of the reason is merchandising that goes hand in hand with the special. If the Snoopy Xmas wares didn’t continually move off shelves and into the hands of Peanuts fans, I’m sure this special would have died some time ago. My wife and children are those consumers too. I’ve gotten more Snoopys in more variations for them than you can shake a stick at, if that’s your idea of a good time.
Plus, with constant burying of the lead as to the point of the Christmas season that only amplifies with each passing year, A Charlie Brown Christmas stands relatively alone among mainstream holiday specials or movies by having Scripture right at the core of it. That core isn’t to be found in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or in How the Grinch Stole Christmas or even in any versions of A Christmas Carol. It is found in a little almost half-hour Peanuts animated special.
A Charlie Brown Christmas has most definitely stood the test of time. And why shouldn’t it? After all, it contains a timeless message for everyone.