Gary Varvel: What we still can learn from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

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Gary VarvelThis is supposed to be the most wonderful time of year, but for many people, the holidays are filled with loneliness, sadness and depression.

Cartoonist Charles Schulz animated those feelings in his iconic 1965 TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

“I think there’s something wrong with me, Linus,” Charlie Brown says to his friend. “Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Many people know that feeling. Schulz’s genius was in creating a cast of children that everyone, including adults, could identify with. After all, there is a child inside of all of us.

The holiday blues are real and the causes are many. Schulz hits on just a few.

Charlie Brown goes to the mailbox, looks in and then says, “Rats. Nobody sent me a Christmas card today. … I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday to emphasize it?”

Yikes.

William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Unmet expectations give birth to disappointment, especially at this time of year.

Schulz is also critical of the commercialization and secularization of Christmas.

In the show, Snoopy decorates his doghouse and gives Charlie Brown a flier that reads, “Find the true meaning of Christmas. Win money, money, money. Enter the spectacular super colossal neighborhood lights and display contest.”

Frustrated, Charlie Brown goes to Lucy’s psychiatrist booth for advice. She tells him to get involved by directing the Christmas play. Focusing on others gets your mind off of yourself. But directing this group is like herding cats.

After being charged with getting a Christmas tree for the play, Charlie picks a sad little tree because, “I think it needs me.” Everyone laughs and ridicules his choice.

Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Then Linus takes center stage and recites a passage from the Gospel of Luke.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’”

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” says Linus.

Charlie Brown picks up his little tree and he goes home smiling. Why? Because, just as he had decided to save that little tree that everyone rejected, so God had decided to send a savior to save the world, including him. He had found his worth.

Schulz’s lead animator, Bill Melendez, was opposed to the script’s emphasis on religion. So was CBS, which bought the program. But Schulz insisted that his show about Christmas include the Biblical passage. Schulz won and so did the network because more than 50 million viewers watched that first show.

I believe the reason this cartoon is a Christmas classic today is specifically because of this scene with Linus.

Because that is the true meaning of Christmas.•

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Varvel is a political cartoonist and illustrator who retired from The Indianapolis Star last year. Send comments to [email protected]

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One thought on “Gary Varvel: What we still can learn from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

  1. Well-spoken, Gary; thanks for a breath of fresh air after reading Ed Delay’s ridiculous screed…and that of Karen what’s-her-name, the Democrat operative with the hyphenated last name. (Gotta’ love liberals with hyphenated last names: If they can’t decide what their surname is, no wonder that can’t decide which bathroom to use!)

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