I love Christmas.
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For me, as a child, Christmas meant lots of things. I knew, of course, that it was Jesus' birthday, and I always had fun setting out the Nativity scene. Christmas usually meant being in a play at church, going caroling, visiting friends and relatives. It meant that Mom would be baking lots of goodies, so that mouth-watering smells would waft in from the kitchen for at least two weeks. It meant cutting down a tree and decorating it, and listening to Dad mutter under his breath as he wrestled with the lights. It meant that, several days before Christmas itself, Dad would start reading "A Christmas Carol", doing Scrooge's voice so well that I still hear it when I read the book. Christmas meant that we would once again get to sit down and watch all those holiday specials - Rudolph and Frosty and the Grinch and good ol' Charlie Brown. And I think that these shows still make me cry not just because of their content, but because of the memories that they evoke.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" has endured for more than 25 years as one of the few holiday specials that expresses, in no uncertain terms, the true meaning of the season. I become as annoyed and distressed as Charlie sometimes over the crass commercialization of what used to be a religious celebration. Do I like to get presents? Well, heck, who doesn't?? But I have come to realize that what's even better is to be able to GIVE. And where Jolly Old St. Nick used to represent that giving spirit (St. Nicholas was a real person, a bishop with a generous heart who gave gifts to poor children), he is now a fat man in a red suit who makes children's faces light up - with GREED. This is the kind of thing that Charlie Brown finds so disturbing, especially when he finds baby sister Sally writing a letter to Santa expressing her discontent with last year's haul and demanding something better. Likewise Lucy, crabby as ever, wants "real estate." And the clincher comes when Charlie discovers Snoopy covering his doghouse with flashy decorations in order to win a contest. When he says, "My own dog, gone commercial!" we can certainly relate.
What Charlie Brown is seeking is the true meaning of Christmas, but no ones seems able to give a satisfactory answer. Perhaps it is because they have forgotten, if, indeed, they ever knew, that the first gift of Christmas came without fanfare to a quiet stable in a small village.
So when Charlie, sent to buy a tree for the Christmas play, picks out the scrawniest and saddest tree on the lot, he is ridiculed by his friends. But when he demands to know what Christmas is really about, Linus steps up and tells the story of the Saviour from the Gospel of Luke. Thus reminded, the gang begins to see possibilities in the tree, which with "a little love", becomes a thing of beauty. As do we all. The light of Christ's love is what transforms us, so that we can have those moments when we shine. Even a "loser" like Charlie Brown, who may be a "blockhead", but "he sure picked out a nice tree."
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" is the one Christmas special that you simply must watch with your children. Better than Rudolph's shiny nose, Frosty's magic hat, or even the Grinch's change of heart, Charlie Brown's discovery of the truth sends a message that will be remembered for years to come. Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!
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