You know you should be happy around Christmas, but some years, you end up feeling a little letdown. Don’t worry—you’re in good company. Charlie Brown has been there and done that, since 1965. If you watch any animated Christmas special this year, make it A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s had a 50-year run for a reason: it’s true to life, and has an awesome, unexpected moment of grace.

THE AWESOME, REALISTIC DOWNER CARTOON

A Charlie Brown Christmas is about a group of bratty kindergartners and Charlie Brown, the quintessential sad sack, trying to put together a Christmas play. And as if wrangling a dozen uncooperative, 3-foot-tall diva-thespians wasn’t hard enough, Charlie Brown also has to contend with seasonal affective disorder. In a final act of desperation to set the proper holiday mood, Charlie Brown goes out with his blanket-toting comrade Linus to buy a Christmas tree for the set. Charlie Brown proudly returns with the crummiest tree from the lot only to be insulted by his fellow kindergartners for being such an idiot and ruining the play.

It’s kind of a downer little cartoon, really. What’s so awesome about that?

Because it’s real to life. Charlie Brown, and his crummy tree, is just like you, and me.

From time to time, a pal like Linus comes along and surprises us with grace.

Charlie is the underdog over-personified. But it’s that very over-personification that makes him so familiar, right? Everybody knows what it feels like to be depressed on a happy occasion. Everyone has felt like a loser, understands the fear of public humiliation, and wants to understand the essence of something important (Christmas) without having to buy into all the fluffy, cultural baggage.

At the time of its original airing, nearly half the television viewing public in America was tuned in, and it won an Emmy and a Peabody award to boot. But it wasn’t just a gloomy cloud hanging over the people’s collective conscience that made it stick: A Charlie Brown Christmas resonates not only because Charlie’s experience is everyone’s experience (to one degree or another), but because of one perfectly timed moment of grace.

IN GRACE, JESUS BECAME THE UNDERDOG

After Charlie Brown gets so rudely lambasted after the crummy tree incident, he cries out in desperation: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” His trusty sidekick Linus responds, quoting Luke 2:8–14 (KJV):

Sure Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about (lights please):

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 Saviour, 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.

A baby came into the world to become your King. Born into humble circumstances, Jesus became the ultimate underdog so that you wouldn’t have to ultimately bear the weight of anxiety, fear of the opinion of others, and fear of failure as Charlie Brown does.

WE’RE A LOT LIKE THAT SCRAWNY TREE

It’s OK to admit it. Just like Charlie, we’re all kind of blockheads of one sort or another. But from time to time, a pal like Linus comes along and surprises us with grace. Not only that, but at the end of the show, he props up that scrawny Christmas tree and says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

Linus preached good news, and bestowed goodness on that scrawny tree. In the process, he encouraged Charlie Brown.

Huh. Turns out we’re a lot like that transformed, scrawny tree too.

“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

 

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