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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Lasting legacy of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

Graphic by Mylie Bluhm

Christmas is a holiday laden with tradition. Like most who celebrate the season, my family has a wealth of festive customs. From picking out the perfect tree to caroling for unsuspecting neighbors, these acts highlight the joy of the season. However, we enjoy our annual watching of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the most.

Christmas movies are a core part of contemporary celebration. On-screen depictions of merriment dominate the airwaves in December, ranging from golden age classics to modern day hits. Yet some holiday films come off as formulaic, too preoccupied by commercial success to touch on deeper themes. The Hallmark Channel might be one of the worst offenders, with over 400 movies centered around the holiday. I’d like to believe there’s no such thing as “too much Christmas,” but the channel openly contributes to the oversaturation of the holiday with superficial storylines.  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the antithesis of these works, a timeless paragon of the holiday. 

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is based off of the beloved comic strip “Peanuts,” created by Charles M. Schulz. This 1965 television special follows the titular character as he struggles with depression during the Christmas season. To stymie his seasonal melancholy, Charlie Brown directs a holiday play with his peers and learns about the true meaning of Christmas.

On the surface, the television special’s plot and eventual resolution seem unremarkable. However, beneath warm animation and occasional gags lies an enduring piece of art that deals with topics seldom touched upon in the genre.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is framed through an anti-consumerist lens in a materialistic society. Charlie Brown’s depression is brought on by what he describes as a desecration of the Christmas spirit. He feels that the ideals of the holiday have been besmirched by synthetic platitudes, as seen when he gasps at his friend Lucy’s Christmas wish for real estate and when he admonishes his little sister Sally for requesting cash from Santa Claus. Most of Charlie Brown’s friends chide him for his unwavering convictions, and at one point they ridicule him for purchasing a sickly Christmas tree instead of a sturdy aluminum one.

Charlie Brown’s closest friend, Linus, is a sage-like figure in the story. He understands his friend’s plight and encourages him not to let commercialism ruin the holiday. Linus’ wisdom shines when he recites the Annunciation to the shepherds to a stunned crowd of classmates. He is able to cut through the modern glitz of Christmas and reach Charlie Brown’s soul with a message of joy. 

In retrospect, I am surprised to see that consumerism had such a grip on the holiday almost 60 years ago. Nowadays, we’re constantly inundated with advertisements that contain only a hint of Christmas spirit, purely motivated by corporate greed. The automotive industry pushes massive campaigns to sell cars under the guise of cheerful celebration. Electronics companies run month-long deals to convince you to splurge on the latest technology. That’s all well and good for consumers, but is that all we are — consumers? 

Despite what the “big eastern syndicate” believes, we’re more complex than that. People of all beliefs are emotional, aspirational and kindred. For those who celebrate the holiday, instead of focusing on superficial goods, we should be putting our time towards celebrating life and spreading joy amongst those we cherish. Therein lies the true Christmas spirit. I admit that I’m parroting Charlie Brown and Linus, but too often this sentiment gets lost.

I was raised on Catholicism and spent many Sundays of my childhood in church. Nowadays, I could probably be described as a lapsed Catholic, often shunning the Eucharist due to disagreements with the Vatican. I feel that my love for the special, despite my misgivings about the Church, speaks to the impact of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” You don’t have to be a devout Christian to enjoy the special. You certainly don’t have to be religious to understand it. At its core, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” preaches a meaning of Christmas that revolves around exultation and personal connections.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” has withstood the test of time because it conveys this universal message simply, using familiar and youthful characters. We can all see a part of ourselves in Charlie Brown, confused and underwhelmed by the season. We might see ourselves in Linus, partial to the mystical roots of the holiday. We can even see ourselves in the other children, rallying together to uplift a member of the community.  

Even the soundtrack ties into these figures. The pairing of the Vince Guaraldi Trio with the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church children’s choir on select tracks is hauntingly beautiful, toeing the line between innocent youth and emotional maturity, much like what is seen on screen. 

Pretty soon, I’ll be back home for the holidays. Amidst all the hubbub of events, my family and I will inevitably end up together in front of the television watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

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