"A Charlie Brown Christmas," which originally aired Dec. 9, 1965, has now been with us for an entire half-century. When it debuted, the 30-minute cartoon was unprecedented for a Christmas special — or anything else in prime time, for that matter — in its willingness to openly address religious matters.
Peanuts creator Charles Schulz gently eases us toward that part by peppering the show’s first several minutes with Snoopy’s antics, Lucy’s wisecracks and jazzy music. Yet when Charlie Brown wails in frustration as to whether anyone can tell him the true meaning of Christmas, the plot takes a decisive turn.
Linus then mounts the stage and puts it out there for all of America: Christmas is first and foremost about the birth of Jesus Christ, regardless of what societal influences might state to the contrary.
I’ve read that producers tried to talk Schulz, a Protestant, out of including Linus’ rendering of Luke 2:8-14, concerned with the controversy that might result. Schulz held his ground, and the show not only became a holiday classic but is still a cherished prime-time special that the ABC Network airs not once, but twice each December.
To me, the fact that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was a hit is quite telling. Maybe there are more people out there than we’d thought who, like poor old Charlie Brown, have wearied of the excess commercialism attached to Christmas and embrace this reminder of why we celebrate the holiday in the first place.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" mixes laughter and reflection, as do so many other Peanuts tales created by Schulz, who died in 2000. When you take into account the power of prime-time television, Schulz’ determination with "A Charlie Brown Christmas" to make us think twice is a great example of evangelization, in my book.