Charles Schultz’s classic TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was originally broadcast in 1965. And, a generation later, the problem at its heart remains as problematic as ever.
Poor Charlie Brown keeps searching for the true meaning of Christmas amid pop psychology, commercialism, and parties. Having seen through the nonsense all around him, he cries outfor help. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
His patient friend Linus, secure in his blanket and faith, then recites the nativity story from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 2. And that solves everything, right?
Charlie Brown listens to Linus and, encouraged by this poignant glimpse of the Christchild, he proceeds to devote his life to Christianity: feeding the poor, striving for justice, and spreading the gospel of salvation through Jesus to everyone he meets.
Well, no, he doesn’t, of course. Instead Charlie Brown responds to the Greatest Story Ever Told by caring for . . . a Christmas tree. A little, real one, to be sure—not those crass artificial ones—and Charlie Brown gives it the place of honour in the Christmas pageant. Everyone else is touched by this humble authenticity, and sings a final carol to Jesus, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”
But what in the world does giving “glory to the newborn king” have to do with a Christmas tree?
That’s the Charlie Brown Christmas problem, and it remains a problem.
Most Christmas movies deal with the problem by ignoring it and focusing entirely on non-Christian elements of the season. “A Christmas Story,” “The Santa Clause,” “Elf,” “The Grinch”—all family favourites in our home—and every single one of the Hallmark Channel Christmas romances turned out by the dozen—utterly ignore anything to do with Jesus.
It’s weird, though, if you think about it. Christmas specials without Jesus are like shows about Smallville without ever mentioning Clark Kent, or Gotham City without a trace of Bruce Wayne. Who cares about Smallville or Gotham City without the heroes? Bethlehem and Christmas aren’t special if Jesus isn’t special.
But Jesus does have a way of showing up anyhow. A humour column in a recent New Yorker concludes with this: “I’ll end here, on the holiday I enjoy the most. . . . The day is ostensibly to honor a baby with superpowers, but it’s rude to ask too many follow-up questions about the baby, because he died.”
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