We played Christmas movie trivia in our small group Christmas gathering this week. It was plenty of fun, and I wish you could have been there. It is amazing the trivial details that we know about our favorite Christmas flicks, and the memories they stir up this time of year.
One of the timeless traditions of many families this time of year is watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special together. It’s such a simple story, with an unlikely ending for a program airing on a major network television. I read someone’s comment on Facebook earlier this week that they wondered if the show, with it’s reading of the Christmas story right out of Scripture, would be allowed on television if it came out today. I think we all know the answer to that.
According to a recent account about the special from the National Review, it almost didn’t come to pass the first time around.
It all started in 1965 when Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz put together his first TV special, on very short notice and with a shoestring budget. In fact, Schulz was asked on a Wednesday to put write a special…by the following Monday. What he came up with was nearly rejected at first, and CBS executives were sure it would be doomed if it ever aired at all. However, to their surprise it was well-received the first year, and 51 years later it is still one of the most-watched shows of the holiday season.
Other than nostalgia, what makes the Charlie Brown special so…special? For one, Schulz insisted that it would have no laugh track, which was unheard of in that day. It was a what-you-see-is-what-you-get show, with no external cues on when to laugh. The backdrop is sometimes eery silence which accentuates the simplicity of the whole program.
Another peculiar part of the show is that all the voices you hear are children. Not adult actors playing children, but real-life kids. Again, that hadn’t been done when Schulz proposed it, and network executives suggested it would never work, but Schulz knew that the simple, innocent voices of children would be the key to presenting the message.
But the most controversial part of the special was what bothered CBS executives the most, even in 1965. As the bumbling Charlie Brown, with his puny little Christmas tree, tries to discover the true meaning of Christmas, it is Linus who comes to the rescue in the climax of the show. And he does so by reading from–of all places–the Bible. He reads familiar account from Luke 2 about the birth of Jesus.
“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
In a mid-1960’s time of rebellion and questioning of all “truth”–when Time magazine’s cover would ask the Nietzsche-inspired question “Is God Dead?”–Schulz and Charlie Brown would answer that question with a resounding “No.” The hope in the midst of the chaos was our Emmanuel, God with us, a simple baby born in a manger in Bethlehem.
Like the Charlie Brown special, we would all do well this season to move away from the noise of our modern holiday, to approach Christmas with the simple faith of a child, and to focus our attention not on the trappings of the busy, over-commercialized season, but on the One who came to give us peace and joy and life in the midst of it all. Yes, that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Don’t let the world trap you into an over-extended, over-spent, over-stressed Christmas. There’s still time for you to simplify, and enjoy the wonder of Emmanuel this Advent season..
I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday as we celebrate the “peace on earth” that Jesus came to bring.