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"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" asked a little block-headed boy in the 1965 classic carrying his namesake, A Charlie Brown Christmas, by Charles M. Schultz.
Ask anyone this question and you will probably get a different answer each time. But the timeless holiday movie shares what we hope Christmas to be, what it has become and what it really is about.
As the film begins, the Peanuts gang is ice-skating in the snow. Snoopy is up to his silliness once again, while the pile of dust follows Pigpen. And while the sight conjures up the dreams of cocoa and fireplaces, snow is something we in West Texas rarely enjoy during the holiday.
Unfortunately, our main character is plagued by the Christmas blues--something that may happen to a family member or friend during this season. But as any "good friend" would do, the all-demanding Lucy van Pelt encourages Charlie Brown to get involved and direct the local program, even if she wants to run the show herself (and crown herself the Christmas Queen).
The kids gather, and Schroeder tickles the white ivories playing the all-too-familiar Peanuts theme song (wonderfully composed by the pianist Vince Guaraldi) as the regulars and a few other faces (because when else have we seen Shermy, that other little boy, and the twins with the purple shirts?) dance with glee. The music and dancing would be just fine in a normal Christmas celebration...but not in the middle of the Christmas play rehearsal.
Charlie Brown struggles to get the respect of his peers as he gets ready for the play, while Lucy manages to assign parts to the kids and even Snoopy, who takes on the role of the animals--which he thinks includes a vulture. And on top of that, Charlie Brown is aware of the commercialism that comes with Christmas, which doesn't help to quell his depression.
Snoopy participates in the lights and display contest just so he can win the top money prize. Even Charlie Brown's baby sister Sally has fallen victim to the greediness of the season, when she asks her brother to help her write a letter to Santa Claus asking him to send her money for her Christmas gift.
Lucy loved the idea of making money as she counseled Charlie Brown, and even concedes to the concept of commercialism in Christmas. But the play's director says no, and to steer in the opposite direction he goes out and buys a Christmas tree--a small, scraggly wooden "tree".
Just as he takes pride in his accomplishment, the cast has no problem sharing their disappointment in Charlie Brown and ridicules him as well as the tree. Thus, he's thrust back into the throes of depression and confusion.
Linus is also aware of Christmas being too commercial--even "dangerous", but he has an answer to Charlie Brown's question. It's the one many of us are familiar with, where December 25 is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus.
The boy who is inseparable from his blue blanket quotes the account found in the Gospel of Luke--chapter two, verses 8 through 14--in the King James Version of the Bible:
"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 unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, 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.'"
After hearing the story, Charlie Brown is committed to defeating commercialism; the tree will be just fine. He also takes a stab at Christmas decorations, taking a red ornament from Snoopy's first-place winning decorations.
But in his hopes of bringing Christmas spirit, the tree flops over and he says he "ruined it". And as the kids come, they love on the tree and decorate it--redeeming Charlie Brown in the process and everyone realizing what really matters.
So as we all spend this Christmas day with family and friends...enjoying presents from Santa and the decorations, unwrapping presents and singing Christmas hymns and carols...may we not forget the reason for the season--the simple answer that Linus gives to his friend's question.
"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."