A Charlie Brown Christmas aired last night. My viewing was approximately my 25th time watching it. It’s a peculiar special. Although humorous and replete with funny moments, there are no side-splitting events or uproarious scenes.
Really, the entire program is laced with melancholy. Charlie Brown’s despair over the holidays is almost existential. One can appreciate his sense of disgust, almost anguish, over the commercialism that has overtaken Christmas (and that, may I add, has only mushroomed since the show’s original broadcast in 1965).
Something I tuned into only recently–Charlie Brown’s holiday-related disappointment continues even after Linus (seemingly inspired by the Holy Spirit) emphasizes the true meaning of Christmas. Until just a few years ago, I mistakenly thought that the special concluded with Linus reciting the biblical passages depicting Jesus’ birth. But that isn’t the end. The end comes only after Charlie Brown feels like a failure yet again when his pathetic, poorly decorated tree collapses despite his best efforts. The real end is his friends (and dog) coming to the rescue to save the tree, boost his spirits, and ease his anxiety.
Often, Christianity is preoccupied with its focus on the divine. Obviously, an appreciation of and reverence toward God are absolutely crucial. But are those things happening at the expense of an appreciation for the importance of the human community? It is that spirit of community that very much underscores the entire A Charlie Brown’s Christmas special.
It’s not enough to remember why Jesus was born and died. It’s not enough to be concerned only with what Christ said, or how strong our faith in God’s existence may be, or our internal connection to a divine presence. If we do not put the message of Christ into action, then Jesus’ whole purpose for coming into the material word is somewhat negated. There is value in using Jesus’s teachings as the basis of our daily interactions with one another. We serve God not only by showing up to church services and praying, but also when we pull together as a group and take the time to inspire and redeem others at their low points.
Christ himself did not stay detached from human beings–he became one of us, lived among us, and delivered a message focused on people helping one another. He gave two commandments to us–one to love God, and the other to love one another. I feel like in the last several years, particularly with the harshness of discourse directed toward the poor, and minorities, and the downtrodden, and the “other,” that the second commandment is often forgotten (or maybe conveniently ignored).
There could not really have been a better conclusion to A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s rooted in the same dual message of the person whose birth we celebrate. Linus’s speech reminds us whom we honor during the holiday in the first place. The Peanuts gang bonding together to create something beautiful and to help the most disconsolate among them (ie, a boy named Charlie Brown) shows how we can put the message behind the holiday into practical action.
“Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year.”