How A Charlie Brown Christmas almost didn’t happen

Lee Habeeb:

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.


Last but not least, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.

“They were freaking out about something so overtly religious in a Christmas special,” explained Melendez. “They basically wrote it off, like, hey, this is just isn’t going to be interesting to anyone, and it’s just going to be like a big tax write-off.”

Melendez himself was somewhat hesitant about the reading from Luke. “I was leery of the religion that came into it, and I was right away opposed to it. But Sparky just assumed what he had to say was important to somebody.”

Which is why Charles Schulz was Charles Schulz. He knew that the Luke reading by Linus was the heart and soul of the story.

As Charlie Brown sinks into a state of despair trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, Linus quietly saves the day. He walks to center of the stage where the Peanuts characters have gathered, and under a narrow spotlight, quotes the second chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, verses 8 through 14:

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 tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, 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 and goodwill towards men.

“ . . . And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” Linus concluded.

The scene lasted 51 seconds. When Linus finished up, Charlie Brown realized he did not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. With a sense of inspiration and purpose, he picked up his fragile tree and walked out of the auditorium, intending to take it home to decorate and show all who cared to see how it would work in the school play.

When CBS executives saw the final product, they were horrified. They believed the special would be a complete flop. CBS programmers were equally pessimistic, informing the production team, “We will, of course, air it next week, but I’m afraid we won’t be ordering any more.”

The half-hour special aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965, preempting The Munsters and following Gilligan’s Island. To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.

Linus’s recitation was hailed by critic Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram, who wrote, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”

People have been complaining about the commercialization of Christmas since before I was born, but lately things have been getting weird. Does anyone really feel offended by the words “Merry Christmas?” Do we have to use the politically correct “Happy Holidays?”

If you’re part of my generation and you weren’t raised in a cave by Jehovah’s Witnesses, A Charlie Brown Christmas was part of your childhood experience, along with Rudolph, Frosty and the Grinch.

Think about that for a second – how many “Christmas” movies, television specials or songs even mention the birth of Christ?

Me, I’m not particularly religious. I was raised in a holy roller church but I went off the reservation a long time ago. However I don’t feel threatened by religion – my old one or any of the others.

But you shouldn’t complain about the commercialism of Christmas if you forget that He’s the reason for the season.

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29 Responses to How A Charlie Brown Christmas almost didn’t happen

  1. crawdad says:

    Didn’t you hear? Jesus was an Occupier.

  2. yttik says:

    I’m not into commercialism, but these anti-commercialism, buy nothing people are irritating the hell out of me. I swear where I live there is 30% unemployment. Dammit people, consume already!! This is what makes the world go round, we’re people, we exchange goods and services and feed our families.

    Oh yeah, buy nothing, make some minimum wage clerk lose their job so you can feel all self righteous about your lack of consumerism. I’m really starting to get pissed off at the high and mighty and their visions of utopia. Some of us don’t have rich parents and all the time in the world to roam around lost in idealism. We need goods and services, we need employment.

    • Three Wickets says:

      Yes I don’t get the anti-consumer activism from the left. Doesn’t sync with demand-side policies being advocated by both progressive and liberal economists. As long as you can afford it, the economy needs you to spend more than save. It’s what Krugman would say for instance. But maybe that doesn’t matter if you’re an anarchist or whatever.

      • DandyTiger says:

        Among some on the left, if you consume more than the bare utilitarian essentials, there’s something wrong with you. Well, except for them when they’re on holiday in europe. Or when their parents buy them stuff. Or when their parents pay for their college. But otherwise, it’s right out.

  3. elliesmom says:

    Not to get maudlin here, but as an atheist, even I recognize “the reason for the season”. To me every new birth in our family has brought a rebirth of our family commitment to each other. While I look forward every year to a Christmas celebration of family and friends, this is year will be another very special Christmas because we have another new family member celebrating her first Christmas. I don’t celebrate the religious aspect of the holiday, but I do respect that the day has strong religious meaning for some, and while I could choose any day of the year to have a family celebration, not everyone in my family is an atheist. In that same spirit, although I have been known to teach the fine art of how to dye an egg while maximizing the mess in the kitchen, I don’t personally celebrate Easter. It’s a holiday that has no meaning to me.

  4. gxm17 says:

    The original reason for the season is the winter solstice. As an atheist, I choose to celebrate the solstice, as well as American capitalism’s most reverent national holiday and the spending of the Almighty Dollar.

    • myiq2xu says:

      Pagan holidays, pagan gods.

    • Sacrifices, blood, penance, guilt, what’s not to love. Come on, you know you want too. 🙂

      • gxm17 says:

        Yes! But I choose to watch the Black Friday hordes on the sidelines. I have an inexplicable aversion to crowds, pepper-spray, and cops throwing grandfathers head first into the floor. Still I love the spending of the Almighty Dollar and even started celebrating Cyber Monday a week early! 😀

  5. Melissa says:

    Thanks for posting that, it brought a tear to my eye. I didn’t know the history behind that special, but it doesn’t surprise me. I guess what did surprise me is how long the media has been completely out of touch with the people.

  6. yttik says:

    I don’t know WTH this is, but I think somebody should make us up a big batch so we can all sit around and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas.

    Easy treat: Caramel Bacon Peanut Bark

    • WMCB says:

      My husband actually made some chocolate-coverd bacon last year. I thought it was disgusting, but he loved it.

  7. 1539days says:

    This reminded me of something that Best Buy did last year. In a Sunday circular at the end of November, they didn’t mention Thanksgiving but did wish everyone a happy Eid’l Adha. Basically, they decided that an American holiday wasn’t important to mention, but a Muslim holiday that is celebrated by leaving town was more important.

    I think Sparky got it right by telling the story of the birth of Christ in a Christmas special. Christmas shouldn’t be about gifts and big lighting displays, but it also isn’t a holiday about good will toward men and peace on earth. Those are song lyrics, and it’s the kind of thing people should do all year. Christmas, specifically, is to celebrate the birth of Christianity’s savior.

    I’m going to try to head off any arguments by saying I mean the religious holiday celebrated on December 25. I don’t mean the Christians own the third week of December or the entire post Thanksgiving period.

  8. Love Christmas. Love the show. Love the jazz music with it. I mean, seriously, just the coolest. Santa, decorated trees, presents, just the best. Total sucker for it. For me it’s a cultural thing more than a religious thing. Makes sense since most of the holiday is cultural more than religious. So what.

    To people that don’t want to be part of the cultural thing as well as people that want it to be some pure religious thing, suck it.

    • DeniseVB says:

      Me too. I respect everyone’s right to worship their invisible God and buy stuff at the Holiday sales.

      Though I do have trouble with Religions of Peace who are hell bent on Death to America. Not nice.

  9. How could you not totally love this song:

  10. DeniseVB says:

    OT: Amy Siskind just posted this on FB about 5 minutes ago

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    Preferably late night or West Coast person since many days, blog stories are finalized in the evening for the next day.
    $$$ – Paid position.
    1 year commitment preferred.

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  11. jjmtacoma says:

    Great post! I had no idea the Peanut’s Christmas cartoon had any controversy.

  12. Silly joke time:

    A man and a woman who have never met before find themselves sharing a sleeping car on an overnight train. After some initial embarrassment, they both go to sleep in their bunks . . . .But in the middle of the night, the woman leans over and says to the man: “I’m sorry, but I’m a little cold. Could I trouble you to get me another blanket?”

    “I’ve got a better idea,” the man replies with a glint in his eye. “Just for tonight, let’s pretend we’re married.”

    “OK, why not,” giggles the woman.

    “Great,” the man says. “Get your own damn blanket!”

  13. Another:

    Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy takes out his phone and calls the emergency services.

    He gasps: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says: “Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: “OK, now what?”

  14. Susan says:

    Great post!

    Linus rocks!

Comments are closed.