Points of Light Christmas Edition: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Greetings once again, as we continue our look at great holiday writing. Today we examine a genuine holiday classic, drawn from the mind and hand of one of America’s comic strip legends. Let’s turn the spotlight on A Charlie Brown Christmas.
It’s the holiday season, and as usual, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed. He feels that Christmas has become over-commercialized, (thanks to Snoopy’s excessive doghouse decorations and his sister Sally asking Santa for money), and that he cannot grasp the true meaning of the holiday. Taking advice from Lucy, he agrees to direct the school Christmas play, but is unable to control the unruly and sometimes selfish children. Charlie Brown decides to get a Christmas tree to better set the mood, but selects a small, barren tree (the only actual tree in the lot) which is ridiculed by the children.
Charlie then beseeches someone to tell him the meaning of Christmas, which prompts Linus to recite the Nativity story from the Bible. Feeling inspired, Charlie Brown takes the tree home to decorate, but it cannot even support a single ornament. C.B. leaves in disgust, but Linus and the other children arrive, and are able to properly decorate the tree as C.B. returns, as the group begins to sing.
What Writers Can Learn: Simplicity, Subtlety
Charlie Brown Christmas has aired for fifty consecutive Christmases, and it’s not hard to see why. Aside from bringing Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cast to television, it is a landmark in the art of simplicity. Everything about the story feels genuine and endearing, from the basic story (completed within ten days) to the performances (done by young children with little previous acting experience). As a result, the story isn’t weighed down by excessive details or long winded story telling. The characters are direct, which makes them seem more like children, and the lessons are quickly stated and shown, which makes it easy to get across, especially in Schulz’s simple and often heartwarming style.
The other great aspect is the subtlety. As mentioned, the story itself is largely simple, but as such, its points can be easy to grasp. Charlie Brown is similar to the Grinch at the start, disillusioned with the commercialism of Christmas, and this point is clearly stated without lingering too long. The other children also display their negative traits quickly. But of all these moments, the most important is Linus’s reading of the Bible, one of the key moments of the Christmas season.
A scene that Schulz fought to be included, it is easy to say that bringing up religion is a difficult topic, and it is. But the presentation is what makes this the keystone of the special. The earnestness of Linus’s delivery is a major part, to be certain. And while the religious aspect is undeniable, it is also true that Christmas is a religious holiday, and for those that celebrate that aspect, this is what the holiday truly means. But most importantly, following Linus’s speech, there is silence. No urging is given to the viewer, no demands are made. We are simply left to our own devices, to take the words and apply them as we see fit. In that, we have the greatest example of subtle writing- assuming the audience is smart enough to grasp the meaning in their own way.
There have been numerous Peanuts specials over the years, dealing with other holidays and various events, but few, if any, have reached the heights of the first. But those of you looking for one last gift, come back next week when we unwrap what may very well be the greatest Christmas tale of all.