A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the most popular Christmas programs in American history. Originally aired in 1965 to high ratings and critical acclaim, the special has been aired during every Christmas season since its debut. In the story, which most people now know by heart, Charlie Brown is depressed over the increasing commercialization of Christmas, as evidenced by Lucy van Pelt's desire for gifts of real estate and Sally Brown's extensive Christmas list capped off with a request for a (for the time) relatively sizeable cash gift if shopping is too hard for Santa Claus. After trying unsuccessfully to direct the school play while saddled with a cast made up of kids indifferent to the "true meaning of Christmas", Brown receives some guidance from his friend Linus in the form of a recitation of the annunciation of the Angels, and then heads for home. Along the way, he tries to decorate the tiny tree that he had acquired earlier in the story, and thinks he has killed it, running away in despair. After his departure, Brown's friends show up and restore the tree before he returns. Everyone then joins Charlie Brown in singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, apparently having learned the true meaning of Christmas as well.
This Christmas program, created more than fifty years ago now, shows that the "good old days" weren't really that "good" to begin with. After all, Charlie Brown could plausibly lament the commercialization of Christmas as long ago as 1965, and Lucy could claim that the entire holiday was run by a "big Eastern syndicate", and while Lucy's claim was supposed to be mostly ridiculous, it was also supposed to be something that someone might actually believe. When Charlie Brown goes to buy a Christmas tree, the place that sells them is a gaudy showplace with spotlights, and almost all of the trees available are artificial. Even "back then" the world was commercialized, no matter what our hazy nostalgic gaze might tell us.
The bigger issue that I see is that the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas is just as relevant today as it was then. Every year, we are regaled with scenes of the stampedes of shoppers nearly rioting at "Black Friday" sales. Black Friday itself has encroached upon Thanksgiving: Once you had to wait until stores opened as normal on Black Friday, then the sales started earlier and earlier, eventually commencing at midnight of Thanksgiving. But even that wasn't enough, now you can get up from your Thanksgiving dinner and rush over to the mall at six in the evening on Thanksgiving itself to satisfy your urge to purchase Christmas goodies. Well, you can do that if you aren't one of the unfortunate people who has to work at the stores during those shifts. The commercialism that Charlie Brown complained about in 1965 hasn't just polluted Christmas, it has infected Thanksgiving as well. Americans love A Charlie Brown Christmas, but even fifty-one years worth of viewings seem to have had limited effect on getting its message through to them.
More than fifty years ago, Charles Schulz pointed the way to a better Christmas season. For more than fifty years, Americans have professed to love the story containing that message. Every year for the last several decades, we have commercialized Christmas to an even greater extent than the year before. Every year, people lament that Christmas is bleeding over into Thanksgiving and tut-tut over the mad rush of Black Friday while getting into line for a store opening at 6:00 P.M. after they eat their turkey dinner. It is possible to change this, but it starts with our decision, one by one, to say no. To reject the over-commercialization of Christmas requires a few thousand individual decisions. It is what Schulz would want us to do.
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