Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown

No Better Time to Be a Kid

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Americans, bolstered by America's stability and prosperity, married young and had large families. In my neighborhood, we had six, the Kreigers five, the Gillens four, the Greenaways four, and so on.

The design was simple then: a man and woman believed that when they married they became one under God. They believed their role was to sacrifice for their children, so their children could have better lives than they.

Their mission was to teach their kids good values and to provide them with an excellent education. That's why most of the families in my suburban neighborhood moved there to be close to St. Germaine's Catholic Church and School.

It was a traditional time, to be sure. Most of the dads went off to work while most of the moms kept an eye on the homes and the neighborhood. And though life for adults then had its limitations and challenges, there was no better time to be a kid. Especially during Christmas.

At Catholic school, we kicked off Christmas preparations one month before the big day. We put up Christmas decorations, sold items to raise money for the needy and practiced for Christmas concerts (we sang real Christmas songs, too, such as “Silent Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”).

We were just as busy at home. My mother was a master at building up the suspense. She played Mitch Miller's Christmas records on the stereo most nights after dinner, and whistled to the tunes while we hung decorations and talked over what to get for each other. We probed her to find out what our gifts might be, but she never budged an inch.

The Grandaddy of All the Shows

Silly as it may sound today, the television Christmas specials were a real event at our home. We all packed into the family room and plugged in the tree. We turned off all the lamps so that the Christmas lights would shine bright, and then we'd wait with great anticipation for the shows to start.

Every year I laughed hard when the little dog, with antlers strapped to his head, jumped up on the back of the sleigh, causing the Grinch to grimace. In Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, the Abominable Snowman terrified me every year, but I was relieved every year when he turned out to be a lovable fuzzball.

But the granddaddy of the shows was the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. As it goes, Charlie Brown is depressed because everyone around fails to see the true meaning of Christmas. Lucy complains that she doesn't want stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes for Christmas, but real estate.

To resolve his depression, he throws himself into work as the director of the Christmas play. But that soon falls apart, too. Distraught, he follows a light in the East and finds his way to a Christmas tree lot. The only tree he can find is a small, sickly one.

When he brings it back, the others mock him. But then Linus comes to the rescue. Linus tells Charlie Brown he knows the real meaning of Christmas. He tells the story of Christ's birth.

The Real Meaning of Christmas

“Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men,” he says, quoting from the Bible.

Suddenly, the other characters become compassionate and warm. They decorate the tree and transform it into a thing of beauty. They wish Charlie Brown a Merry Christmas and sing a real Christmas carol.

I love this show because it brings back powerful childhood memories, but I love it for another reason. Despite the fact that Christmas is based on the birth of Christ, a historical figure; despite the fact that the show's innocence, simplicity and honesty still make it a ratings winner — it would never be made today.

Good grief.

(Tom Purcell's e-mail address is; his web address is

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