Search This Blog

Friday, December 02, 2011

TGIF: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Before I kick off today's blog entry, I'd like to post a little mood music, if you don't mind.

There. That's better.

You know, today is December 2, and we're just 23 days until Christmas. But, looking outside my window, you'd never know it. The weather's been unseasonably warm (which delights some people in my area, but depresses me), and instead of there being snow on the ground, we have green grass. Again, some may be enjoying it, but I like me some snow on Christmas. But, there's still time yet for the snowflakes to fall.

I get so much delight out of the little things that make Christmas seem more...Christmasy. Snow on the ground, the various lights and decorations on trees, the happiness that people are supposed to feel.

The key word there is 'supposed'.

Lately, it seems as though the closer and closer we get to Christmas, the more and more grouchier some people seem to get.

And why are these select people getting so grouchy?

I think it's because of the fact that Christmas has gotten incredibly commercial.  So commercial that the various advertisements, store flyers, and catalogues are practically in your face saying 'BUY ME!'

I mean, all you need to do is take a look back to last Friday to get some examples of what I'm talking about. As many of you know, last Friday was the shopping holiday known as 'Black Friday', a magical day where stores slash the prices of such items as video game consoles, television sets, clothing, and bedding accessories in hopes of getting major profit. They say that day is the kickoff towards the holiday shopping season.

But reading about some of the horror stories that have emerged from Black Friday over the years, one has to wonder if the day is really worth it?

Sure, the stores and merchants make a killing in profits and cash. But the people who are buying the items that are on sale are making a killing themselves, as in they're literally trying to kill each other in hopes of snatching a $99 television or $3 bath towel. A couple of years ago, a Walmart associate was trampled to death when a crowd of anxious shoppers stormed the doors. Last week, a woman in California pepper-sprayed other customers in front of her in hopes of getting a discounted XBOX 360. And I watched a clip of another Walmart location on the local news where people were literally crawling over top of each other just to get bath towels.

And, I just shake my head with a combination of disgust and disappointment. Is this REALLY what Christmas is all about? Waiting in line hours before the store opens up and practically risking yourself bodily harm just to get a stupid hunk of plastic that one can use to waste more time with? That's shameful. Although I do understand the rush one feels when they save a fortune on an item that they get on sale, there's nothing in the world that I would want that badly that would involve me pushing someone out of the way to get. If they don't have the item I want, I'll just wait until it becomes available. I may pay more money, but at least I'll keep all of my fingers and toes. And for those of you who say that Black Friday is fun, remind me never to come by any of your holiday parties.

But you know, I'm probably not the only one to question the true meaning of Christmas. Back in 1965, another person had those same feelings of what the true meaning of Christmas really was. Like myself, he didn't think it was about the presents, and the spending, and the huge bills people rack up. And like myself, he seemed to be one against everyone else in the world.

Yet in Charlie Brown's case, it all seemed to work out.

Yes, today's blog entry (and the first of many holiday themed entries for the month of December), happens to be about the very first Peanuts themed prime-time special that aired on television. That special being 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'. The show made its debut on December 9, 1965. Just like 'It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown', the special aired exclusively on CBS until the year 2000, and was moved to ABC in 2001, where it has aired since. This special has become a holiday tradition for many generations, and sometimes airs twice, even thrice, during the month of December.

Here's a little bit of irony in regards to the special. Many people don't know this, as the special has been edited since the original broadcast, but the special was sponsored by Coca-Cola. Seems kind of bizarre that a special about finding out the real meaning of Christmas was sponsored by a soft drink company, but it was the only way that creator Charles M. Schulz could get the money to finance the special. During the first three years the program was aired, there were references to Coca-Cola present in a couple of scenes, but by 1968, they were removed. Part of the reason why the final song in the special was cut off was because of a Coca-Cola message that originally aired during the closing credits, which said “Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola”. That's your trivia fact for today.

The special was the first one in a long series of television specials starring the Peanuts gang, and it was completed on a shoestring budget. As a result of this, the animation in some places looked choppy. To add to the hardships in producing the special, a lot of the child actors that were cast had no experience in the field of voice acting. A couple of them had difficulty reading the script, so their lines had to be cued one line at a time. As a result, a lot of editing had to be done regarding the voice tracks, which lead to lines being poorly delivered and with a lack of enunciation.

It should also be known that after the special was completed, network executives from CBS had several complaints about it, such as the production team's refusal to add a laugh track, as well as the use of children as voice actors. They also had two majorly huge complaints that had they gotten their way would have changed the course of the special forever. But, I'll get to that in a second.

'A Charlie Brown Christmas' starts off at an ice skating rink that nature created by freezing a pond. Charlie Brown is talking with Linus about how upset he is about Christmas being over-commercialized. Despite the presents, the cards, and the tree decorating, he can't bring himself to get excited over Christmas.

As the show continues, Charlie Brown's disillusionment rises. He doesn't receive any Christmas cards from anyone, and his younger sister writes Santa a letter asking him to bring her cold hard cash in lieu of presents. Even his dog Snoopy seems to be caught up in the commercialism of Christmas, as the sole reason behind Snoopy decorating his dog house is to win a holiday display contest.

But then Charlie Brown gets a brilliant idea, courtesy of Lucy and her psychiatric help stand. Although Lucy gets a little too nickel happy, she suggests that Charlie Brown direct their school play involving the Nativity. Charlie Brown thinks this is a great idea, and the perfect way for him to experience Christmas in a more traditional manner.

Yet when he gets to the school auditorium, he sees the cast members of the play dancing to modernized music and dancing, basically going against all of the traditional values that he had hoped to exhibit during the school play.

And it is here that we come across one of the major complaints that the network executives had against the program when it was first developed.

The music.

I know it seems hard to believe that the music would be something that the executives would want to get rid of. The music made the special. The track entitled “Linus and Lucy” was one of the best pieces of music ever created! Have a listen to it!

And the network executives HATED it! They had felt that the music (composed by the Vince Guaraldi trio) was too jazzy for a children's program. I'm guessing that they probably wanted something more...traditional. Or maybe something more childlike? Who can say really? But I really can't imagine Charlie Brown without that iconic music, and I'm glad that Charles M. Schulz and Bill Melendez stuck to their guns and fought for the music to be heard.

Anyway, back to the story. Seems Charlie Brown really wanted a chance to prove himself to the rest of the cast, and he had a vision of making the school play one filled with tradition and getting rid of the commercialism altogether.

And what better way to capture the spirit of Christmas than by having an old-fashioned Christmas tree as the centerpiece of their school play? Of course when he shares the idea with the rest of the gang, Lucy and the others are all for the idea.

Provided that Charlie Brown bought one of those shiny, pink-tinted aluminum trees that looked like nothing that could ever come out of nature, but because it was modern and looked groovy, it had to be great.

So Lucy and the others give Charlie Brown the money to buy the tree, and Charlie Brown and Linus head down to the Christmas tree lot, eager to find a real, traditional Christmas tree to use in the production. But when they get there, all they see are those tacky looking aluminum trees in every colour imaginable except green. maybe people aren't so into the modern aspect of Christmas after all.

Without a real tree to be found, Charlie Brown and Linus almost give up. But then, Charlie Brown sees it.

Now to most of us, this looks like a branch that one might come across after the tree has been trimmed and pruned to make them suitable for decorating purposes. But to Charlie Brown, this little tree was perfect for exhibiting the point that he wanted to make about Christmas being traditional. Linus is concerned that Charlie Brown might be making a mistake in selecting the tree, but Charlie Brown insists that with some lights and decorations, it will be the perfect tree to use.

If only snobby Lucy and the others could see things the way that Charlie Brown could. For when Charlie Brown brought in the little twig of a tree, he got laughed at and made fun of. According to the Peanuts gang, the blockhead screwed up again, and they wasted no time in making fun at his expense, taking glee and delight in what he thought was a great tree. much for the Christmas spirit spreading amongst that mob.

Charlie Brown is naturally upset. I mean, wouldn't you be if you were in his shoes? He wonders if anyone actually knows what Christmas is all about.

It is here that Linus steps up to the stage, symbolically drops his blanket on the ground, and in one of the most poignant scenes in the whole show makes this speech, taken from the Gospel according to Luke.

Wasn't that a beautiful moment? I'm hardly considered to be the religious type myself, and even I was moved by it. Linus' monologue brought everyone to silence, and the way he delivered it in his childlike manner was just...wonderful.

So therefore it gave me great shock to learn that Linus' monologue could have ended up on the cutting room floor if network executives had their way!

I seems shocking that such a wonderful scene would even be considered to be edited out of the final production. Apparently, network executives didn't think that the average person wanted to sit through Bible passages in a special about Christmas. This was a battle that Melendez and Schulz refused to back down on. Schulz was adamant that the scene be kept in, because according to Schulz, if they didn't show the real meaning of Christmas in the show, who would?

The network executives finally gave in, and aired the show as it was produced, but they didn't expect the show to last beyond one airing. Boy, were they wrong!

So, inspired by Linus' words of wisdom, a newly revigorated Charlie Brown takes his little tree and vows to decorate it himself. He leaves the auditorium, places the tree next to Snoopy's doghouse (which ended up winning the contest), and starts decorating the tree by placing a bright red ornament ball on the branch. The tree immediately wilts and Charlie Brown is distraught, thinking that he has killed it. He's about ready to dejectedly give up on the idea of having a real, true, Christmas.

But, wait. It appears as though Linus' words have melted the hearts of the Peanuts gang who moments ago showered Charlie Brown with cruelty and hurt feelings. With Linus following behind, the Peanuts gang come across the tree where Linus says that it's not a bad tree after all. Having lots of decorations to choose from in regards to Snoopy's doghouse, the Peanuts gang to to work on the tree in hopes of surprising Charlie Brown. This was the end result.

Wasn't that sweet?

I have been in love with this show since the first time I saw it on television years ago. In the end, Charlie Brown got his wish. He got to experience a real traditional Christmas filled with carols, friendship, and tradition. The Peanuts gang learned a valuable lesson about how sometimes being modern and materialistic wasn't always the way to go. And I think that the viewer can take a lot out of this Christmas special.

That Christmas isn't about battling with people over Black Friday deals. It's not about outdoing one another with holiday light displays. It's not about shopping at the most expensive stores, buying the most expensive wrapping paper, sending the most expensive Christmas cards.

I think ultimately, Christmas is what you make of it. But as far as I'm concerned, Christmas is about spreading love and joy to others around you, and finding joy in giving, rather than receiving.

And for those of you who still have yet to learn that lesson, I hope that it will come to you, no matter what holiday you celebrate this month.


  1. I love A Charlie Brown Christmas! I can't believe the execs wanted to scrap the music and Linus's speech. Those are two things that make the show so great! I even have Linus & Lucy downloaded onto my MP3 player.

  2. The whole soundtrack was absolutely amazing. And, if there's anything that we can learn from this, it is that television executives sometimes have no clue what the people want!