-- “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the story of a great big holiday, a tiny tree and a group of children who are trying to make sense it all.
The beloved Christmas classic – in which Charlie Brown tries to convince others that the holiday is about far more than materialism – has reached a special milestone: it's entering its 50th year.
The animated TV special debuted in December of 1965, and, when it comes to holiday viewing pleasures, it ranks right up there with big screen classics such as “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Ron Simon, television historian and curator of The Paley Center for Media in Manhattan, talked about the film’s appeal.
Similarly to the themes of in “A Christmas Carol” or “It's a Wonderful Life,” Charlie Brown also tries to find “a deeper meaning to life,” Simon said, adding that Charlie Brown’s struggles parallel those of many viewers of the film.
It’s “that yearning, that longing for something very much deeper than just shopping and commercialization,” Simon said.
The brand was once featured prominently throughout the original, but those scenes – such as one in which Charlie Brown’s friend, Linus, runs into a Coca-Cola sign – have been removed because the brand is no longer the sole sponsor of the special.
The original closing credits had featured the “Peanuts” gang singing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” along with an announcement that the program had been brought to viewers by the local Coca-Cola distributors. Many people had wondered over the years why the song ends abruptly. The closing credits have been re-mastered in recent years to allow viewers to enjoy the song in full.
The Christmas special was revolutionary at the time for its catchy jazz score and for Charles Schulz’s insistence that the characters be voiced by actual children. Schulz was the creator of the iconic comic strip, “Peanuts,” which featured Charlie Brown and friends, including Linus and Lucy van Pelt, Franklin, Sally Brown and Charlie’s dog, Snoopy.
The popularity of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has spawned dolls, toys and above all, an appreciation of what are now famously called "Charlie Brown Christmas trees” – trees which may not be the ideal of a Christmas tree but which are just as meaningful in spite of their scraggly appearances.
For adults and children alike, the magic of the special comes down to its message.