There are very few things on television today that I watched as a kid. I was a second-grader in 1965, the year A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted. I have probably watched the thirty-minute cartoon almost every year since.
When my boys were little, we sat together as a family, ate popcorn, and enjoyed the same cartoon Jim and I had seen when we were their age. Now, my grandchildren are about the age we were in 1965, and I hope they will all have a chance to watch it as a family this year.
Charlie Brown’s question is still ours today
Charlie Brown and Linus were walking together to go ice skating when Charlie confessed he was a little depressed over all that the Christmas season had become.
Snoopy had entered his doghouse in a decorating contest. Lucy wanted real estate for Christmas. Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally asked her brother to write a letter to Santa Claus for her so she could ask for everything she wanted, and it was a LONG list.
Charlie Brown lamented to Linus about how commercialized Christmas had become. Lucy later counseled Charlie to get involved in a Christmas play to get over his depression. That job just made things even worse. His friends remained distracted and uninterested in the play.
Charlie decided the play needed a Christmas tree, and the only real tree left on the lot left a lot to be desired. Everyone laughed at Charlie Brown’s tree. As he walked away with his head hanging, he asked, “Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?”
Fifty-eight years later our world is still asking that question. Fifty-eight years later, the answer is still the same.
What is Christmas all about?
Charlie Brown and all the other kids watched Linus take the stage and lay down his blanket. A hush fell over the room as the spotlight was aimed at Linus and he recited the answer.
What is Christmas all about?
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:8–14)
The Christmas message, thanks to “Sparky”
Coca-Cola wanted to sponsor a Christmas program. As one meeting led to another, the ad agent for Coca-Cola met with the man who had produced the Peanuts special, Lee Mendelson. Mendelson had worked with animator Bill Melendez and “Sparky,” otherwise known as Charles Schulz. The rest is history.
They worked on possible themes and settled on the commercialization of Christmas. They were trying to develop an ending for the cartoon when Schulz recommended the reading from the book of Luke. In a wonderful article written by Jean Schulz, Charles’ wife, she provided the reason why God’s word made it into a Christmas cartoon.
She wrote, “It was also in the early 1960s that Sparky was teaching adult Sunday school at the Sebastopol Methodist Church, so the suggestion for Linus to read the quotation of the Christmas Story from St. Luke was a natural one for Sparky. When Bill said that that wasn’t done in a cartoon, Sparky answered him by simply saying (and he quoted it frequently later), “If we don’t, who will.”
In 1965 the cartoon was scheduled to air. Coca-Cola was disappointed in their investment. CBS reportedly hated it and predicted it would be a flop. Fifteen million people watched it that first year. Bonanza would be the only show with a higher audience.
Fifty-eight years later, the “flop” is now being seen by its third generation. Every Christmas those words from the book of Luke are heard by millions of people. Sparky’s Christmas witness continues to this day.
“If we don’t, who will?”
Aren’t we grateful for “Sparky” Schulz? Aren’t we glad his wife gave us the inside story to the wonderful Christmas cartoon?
I think if Charles Schulz could make a cartoon about Christmas today, he would still end it the same way, for the same reason.
This Christmas I want to remember his motivation for all that I do. I want to make sure others hear about the true message of Christmas. Will you join me?
Because “if we don’t, who will?”
Linus quoted from the King James Version of the Bible saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” I’d like to close this post with Luke 2:14 from the ESV. That version says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The difference in the translations speaks a message to each of us. The ESV is clear. God’s favor, God’s peace, will be among those with “whom he is pleased.” Let’s follow Sparky’s witness this year and speak God’s word to people who need to hear it. A lot of people need to remember what Christmas is all about.
If we won’t tell them, who will?
May God find favor with us this Christmas season and give us his peace as we share his glory.