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What: Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas by reading from verses 8 through 14 of the Gospel of Luke in the 1965 Peanuts cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The entirety of the broadcast can be found on ABC's site.

Why: What was Christmas like on TV in 1965? You could watch The Bob Hope Christmas Show, or, if you wanted a change of pace, you could watch The Bing Crosby Christmas Show. Or if you happened to catch it on December 9, 1965, you could watch the Peanuts gang in their first animated special. A Charlie Brown Christmas was about holiday stress, personified by a depressed Charlie Brown who rails—with sponsorship by commercialization king Coca-Cola—against the commercialization of Christmas. Sadly for Charlie Brown, his friends have completely bought into that commercial spirit. Even his dog Snoopy laughs at him when he buys a dinky Christmas tree. Throwing up his hands, Charlie Brown asks if anyone knows what Christmas is about. One person does, the wise philosopher Linus, who proceeds to quote from the Gospel of Luke on the subject of the Savior's birth. This inspires the gang to support Charlie Brown's woeful sapling with ribbons and ornaments, giving every child a counterbalancing lesson to the materialism around them this time of year.

Impact: CBS executives thought they had a disaster on their hands. They were horrified at Vince Guaraldi's jazz soundtrack ("Kids hate jazz!"), the lack of a laugh track ("Kids hate silence!"), and the child actors ("Kids hate kids!"). Most of all, they blanched at Linus's recitation of the Gospel, figuring kids hated Sunday school most of all. It turned out kids didn't hate those things, as almost half the televisions in the U.S. were tuned to the debut broadcast. It won creator Charles Schulz and director Bill Meléndez an Emmy and a Peabody, and has run every year since, now (despite some totally intolerable cuts) on ABC. This became the first of over 40 Peanuts cartoons, some good and some less so. This remains the greatest. It is now part of the commercial juggernaut of Christmas, making Schulz and his heirs so much money that they didn't quite catch the irony of licensing a plastic version of Charlie Brown's tree.

Personal Connection: This special codified my opinions on Christmas forever. I was raised Jewish, but I've ended up more of a Christian Without Portfolio—that is, except for the admittedly fairly important son-of-God thing, I'm down with much of the Gospels. The Seattle I grew up in wasn't exactly a hotbed of Judaism, so I spent more time with Christmas than the (at best) fourth most important holiday in the Jewish calendar. It has always baffled me, however, that real Christians let Christmas get away from them. The Santa half of Christmas has little connection with religion, taking my wife away every December to man the parapets of retail like a tower-defense game. It is unclear whether the true meaning of Christmas still has much to do with the guy it's named after. Once a year, though, Linus mounts his stage and undertakes a valiant if hopeless attempt to restore the equilibrium the holiday deserves.

Other Contenders: George offers to lasso Mary the moon in It's a Wonderful Life; the Old Man wins a major award in A Christmas Story; Scooter meets his ideal duet partner on A Christmas Together with John Denver and the Muppets, and David Bowie meets his on Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas; John McClane gets the perfect gift in Die Hard; Mister Grinch makes a reindeer in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as does Jack in The Nightmare Before Christmas; Frank Constanza looks out for the rest of us on Seinfeld; Garmin gives us its annual rewrite of "Carol of the Bells".


( 35 comments — Agree or disagree? )
Dec. 13th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
I think you're the only person I've ever heard mention the Crosby/Bowie duet in a positive context. I've seen it, and I must admit bafflement at its bad reputation.
Dec. 13th, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)
the duet is lovely, but the lead-in is painful.
- selinker - Dec. 13th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
- orryn_emrys - Dec. 15th, 2009 01:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 13th, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)
the happy prince by oscar wilde always played around xmas time, and it was my favourite. "bring me the two most precious things in the city," said God... seeing the heart and the swallow in the dust heap always made me cry, but it was to me the most beautiful lesson that could be shared around this time of year.

Dec. 14th, 2009 03:12 am (UTC)
Wow, how awesome was that. I'd never seen that. Really, there is nothing better than Canadian animation.
Dec. 14th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
The Santa half of Christmas has little connection with religion, taking my wife away every December to man the parapets of retail like a tower-defense game.

This is a perfect sentence.

Also, where my Star Wars Holiday Special at?
Dec. 14th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
I gave the Wookiees the day off.
Dec. 14th, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)
Sorry, my favorite Muppet Christmas moment is still going to be "light the lamp, not the rat" from Muppet Christmas Carol (my favorite -- and, bizarrely, one of the most faithful -- adaptation of Dickens' story).
Dec. 14th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC)
I've never seen A Muppet Christmas Carol, but that is pretty funny. It's a depressing state of Dickensian affairs that no versions of A Christmas Carol even came close to making my list (and I checked it twice).
- seankreynolds - Dec. 14th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
- tahnan - Dec. 14th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 14th, 2009 08:42 am (UTC)
Nothing from Miracle on 34th Street? Nothing??

I would like to know why you chose the lassoing the moon part of It's a Wonderful Life though, rather than the ending, for instance, which I think is far more in the spirit of what Christmas and being thankful is all about.
Dec. 14th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
There were tons of Christmas movies I considered, but Miracle on 34th Street never really bubbled up. I like Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, but I don't go out of my way to see it.

It's best moment in a Christmas broadcast, not most Christmassy moment, but I see your point. There are so many good scenes in It's a Wonderful Life that it's hard to pick just one. The moment at the ending I like most is George discovering Zuzu's petals.
- fo_shizzle_wekk - Dec. 16th, 2009 04:47 am (UTC) - Expand
- selinker - Dec. 16th, 2009 05:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
- selinker - Dec. 16th, 2009 06:33 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 14th, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
While we're on this subject, it's too early to canonize Silent Monks "singing" the Hallelujah Chorus. But it's a must-view nonetheless.
Dec. 14th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
I was probably around five years old the first time I saw this, and it would have been only ten years old itself by that time. This was in the days when there was no home-recording media, so it was a BIG event when it came on TV! Still love it!

"A Christmas Story" is a huge favorite around the parents' house when we all get together at Christmas. I think the phrase "It's a major award!" gets quoted by numerous people for all kinds of situations throughout the year.
Dec. 14th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
This seems as good a time as any to note that various sizes of leg lamps are available at Red Rider Leg Lamps, an online gift shop featuring many props from A Christmas Story. Also, the pink bunny suit seems like a perfect gift for the kiddies.
- gearhead69 - Dec. 14th, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
- selinker - Dec. 14th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 14th, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
I agree with all you've said here until the contenders...

I'll agrue you on A Christmas Story even making the list above Meet Me in Saint Louis- I realize one is far more Christmas based than the other-(and it may be my vile disgust for the movie)but A Christmas Story, in my point of view, has always been one of those movies attributing to the downfall of American society. I lothe the movie to the point that watching the first five minutes makes me feel the need to vomit. I've never been able to watch it in it's fullness. When I was in school we it was often the defult for our teachers to put on while they tried to ignore us- I often asked to leave the classroom. I get the same queezy feeling from Chevy Chase and Will Farrel, however this movie intesifies it 80 fold. I'm not entirely sure how to put my finger on describing what it is about the movie that bothers me - I'm fairly sure it's the 'comedy' style if you can call it that. I know for sure that a hint of it on the TV bothers me enough to argue it's true value.

However, I'm curious to see if Meet Me in Saint Louis or White Christmas made it on your list and where at? Mostly for my roommate's benifit as those are her top two holiday films.
Dec. 14th, 2009 05:04 pm (UTC)
I didn't see A Christmas Story until two years ago, but I think it's a hoot and a half. YMMV.

Your roommate has good taste. "The Trolley Song" was very high on my list, and not just for Judy Garland's lavender gloves. But I couldn't convince myself that it was a Christmas movie, since it really centers around the World's Fair.

I already had a Bing classic which knocked anything from White Christmas out of the room.
- zeke_altret - Dec. 14th, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 15th, 2009 08:49 am (UTC)
What a great moment in television history. You wouldn't happen to remember the 1966 production of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" would you?

Dec. 15th, 2009 12:22 pm (UTC)
No, I hadn't. As soon as I heard the words "Of course they'd like to kill us both, but it's Christmas, so they can't," I knew this was a Capote story.
Dec. 15th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)
My family follows a definitively Pagan faith, and yet I still cherish Christmas for the message that persists within the subtext of our rabid consumerism... a message which young Van Pelt captured very well in this golden television moment from my youth.

In fact, it's fair to note that a season which I have frequently associated with a steadily emptying pocketbook has taken on new dimensions in recent years, as my family rides the virtual edge of poverty. There isn't a lot of room for extraneous spending these days, and it's more important than ever to make certain that my children come to understand that the spirit of the season has, in truth, nothing to do with extravagant gifts. It can be difficult... kids are kids, after all.

Beautiful indeed, sir. And Happy Holidays to you and yours.
Dec. 15th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)
I forgot to say that: Happy Holidays to all the Most Beautiful Readers.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 16th, 2009 05:21 am (UTC)
I can't imagine watching it on broadcast TV, given the butchery. I just watch it online.
- selinker - Dec. 22nd, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
I'm happy to see religion in public life and thus the continued success of the 1965-style Charlie Brown.

Jewish Holy Days:
Yom Kippur
Rosh Hashana

Purim and Hannukah are different than the above holidays so I'd agree that it's not higher than 4th place (even lower in fact). Pentecost and Tabernacles are equal in status to Passover in the Torah but don't get equal play in some Jewish circles.
Dec. 21st, 2009 01:54 am (UTC)
Aaron, if I'm ranking Jewish holidays by importance, I go Yom Kippur, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Purim. But there are definitely other opinions on that.
Dec. 24th, 2009 03:34 pm (UTC)
Here's a lovely take by Shortpacked on Linus's speech.
( 35 comments — Agree or disagree? )


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