Christmas time once more. I’m still working on getting completely into the swing of things. A week of chaos related (but not exclusive) to changing ISPs has not helped. On the other hand, I’m organized; I’m well along with most of my shopping, lights and decorations are up, Christmas Ale is purchased, my brother’s latest drawing commission is (finally) done, and my cards are underway. Though that last was a trial this year. May post more about this at my design blog, later…
For the moment, though, a thought or two about the timeless Charlie Brown Christmas special. I do like this little cartoon, certainly. (In fact, I may actually buy the DVD just because ABC positively butchered it this year with how many scenes they cut to squeeze in more ads…) Mostly because of tradition, and the inherent endearing character of Peanuts in general, I suppose. I wouldn’t call it brilliant, but it has been around for generations now, really, and it feels like it never gets old. So many scenes and lines and images feel like solid, reassuring cultural reference points.
That said, there are… one or two points of interest, as the great one would say. Particularly related to the last act. For years, now—probably ever since I resumed viewing the CBC after a sort of hiatus from Christmas in my 20s—I have puzzled over Charlie Brown’s disappearance from the stage just before the final scene. Chuck moans “I’ve killed it,” etc., walks offstage, his peers amble up and perform their miracle with the Saddest Christmas Tree Ever, start caroling, and he returns for the big finale. What does he do in the interim? Obviously, this is trivial as can be, and yet every time I watch now, it feels as mysterious and tantalizing as the 18-minute tape gap.
It isn’t difficult to come up with a simple explanation. Chuck goes inside, slumps down in a chair in despair for a moment… then sees and/or hears activity outside, and goes to investigate. But… does he take off his coat and boots, then put them back on, in that short time? More to the point, does anything else happen? He sees the day’s mail, maybe? Catches something on TV? Grabs a snack? Ponders the meaning of life? Stands on the porch listening to his parents argue (wa-wa-wa)? It just feels like there is something missing here. Maybe it’s poignant, maybe not, but the way the star of the show vanishes at that crucial moment without explanation just haunts me. I suppose “the world may never know.”
This year, meanwhile, another little oddity struck me for the very first time.
As with many things Christmas-related, I have rather ambiguous feelings toward the (one, brief) overtly Christian element to the CBC. I’ve heard a story that the producers or the network or whoever wanted to cut Linus’s speech, and Schultz basically said “okay, then let’s just forget the whole thing” and it stayed. No idea how accurate it is, but I could respect that. On the other hand, I’m an atheist, and while (since aforementioned hiatus) I happily observe Christmas I was delighted the first time I came across this some years back:
Love this. Would be very tempted, if technology ever permits it, to customize the show with these new lines… Here’s the thing, though. Watching, this year, it struck me that given what follows in the actual script this speech would actually fit in much more naturally than the “real” one.
Follow me, here. “Sure, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please…” And the old theologian goes into his bit about shepherds and angels and a savior etc., etc. Right, fine. Then, what happens next?
Charlie Brown picks up a (maimed semblance of a) little tree and cheerily strolls off to hang shiny objects and twinkly lights from its (heartbreakingly frail) branches.
What the Hell does this have to do with any kind of Christian Christmas??
Seriously, does anyone out there who can actually consider this sequence objectively think that it makes any sense at all, thematically? One moment, “Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus and the miracle of Christian salvation, Charlie Brown,” and then immediately after, Charlie Brown sets out on a mission to hang tinsel on a conifer sprig. With a deep sense of gladness and purpose. Whaaaa—?! Pausing a moment to gaze up at a twinkling star and echo a bit of Linus’s speech does not smooth out this wrenching thematic swerve, either.
It just doesn’t make any kind of sense.
[Edit: it seems worth emphasizing that Chuck responds to Linus by leaving a rehearsal of a play about the birth of Jesus, to go indulge in pride and vanity—”I’ll show them”—by himself.]
This awkwardness is further emphasized by Charlie Brown’s intention (carried out by his peers) to commandeer (to put it as nicely as possible) decorations from Snoopy’s dog house for his Inspired Act of Christmas-y Purpose… First, he moans and rolls his eyes, for a second time, at Snoopy’s (ultimately successful) participation in a “Lights and Display Contest”… then he begins to reuse the very same decorations for his own lights and display project.
Strangely, though, I think that in a way this discovery just makes the Charlie Brown Christmas more appropriate and endearing. When it was first made, very possibly WASP culture in America was still so dominant that this sequence was just rank hypocrisy… in 2014, though, it almost feels like hypocritical moaning about some kind of secular plot to “corrupt” Christmas is as essential a Christmas tradition as anything.
It has taken some decades, but you really have gotten into the Christmas spirit after all, Charlie Brown.