The Christmas TV season is a bit like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates – in this case, not because we don’t know what we’re going to get, but because we do. It’s a holiday assortment of traditional favourites we’ve seen many times, with a bit of something for everyone: reindeer, elves, snowmen, Grinches, ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.
And yet, amidst this smorgasbord of seasonal fare, there are precious few offerings that ever draw explicit attention to the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth. In fact, there’s only one that comes to mind.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Anyone who’s watched Christmas specials in the last 50 years will no doubt be familiar with A Charlie Brown Christmas. The gentle, minimalist cartoon with its laid-back jazz soundtrack follows Charlie Brown as he grows more and more perturbed by the hype and commercialism surrounding the holiday season.
As an aside, it’s rather remarkable to find such a contemporary theme being addressed in a kids’ program that was produced back in the mid-1960s.
But returning to the story at hand: after Charlie Brown’s failed attempts to direct the Christmas play and find a suitable Christmas tree, he’s mocked and rejected by the other kids. With only his bookish little friend Linus remaining at his side, he cries out in exasperation, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”
In response, Linus calls for the lights, recites the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke and finishes by saying, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
The true meaning of Christmas
Whether one loves Christmas TV shows or cringes at them, they all have one thing in common: at their core, they all offer a certain take on the true meaning of Christmas. Family traditions, nostalgia for a simpler time, acts of human kindness or world peace – they all carry a message grounded in a worldview that reflects something of their creators and of the culture that returns to them year after year.
Watching Christmas specials can be a fun holiday activity to do as a family. But these programs offer something far more valuable to parents: an opportunity to engage in a bit of “film and theology” with their kids. It’s a chance to watch these perennial favourites critically, to discuss the message they present and how it lines up with the Gospel significance of the Nativity.
In that regard, perhaps it’s best to leave the last word to Linus:
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. (Luke 2:8-14 KJV)
It would be unthinkable to find such a moment in a network holiday special being produced today. But Linus was right.
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.