|“||Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy's right; of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest.||”|
— Linus' first line, said in response to Charlie Brown's holiday depression
A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first animated television special based on the popular newspaper comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, and also the first Christmas special for the franchise. It was produced and directed by former Warner Bros. and UPA animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice of Snoopy. Originally sponsored by Coca-Cola, the special debuted on CBS in 1965 and aired during the Christmas season on television every year since (on CBS through 2000, then on ABC from 2001 to 2019, and most recently on PBS in 2020). It was honored with both an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
It is the Christmas season, but while the rest of the Peanuts gang is out ice skating, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed. He confides this fact to Linus, citing his dismay with the over-commercialization of Christmas and his inability to grasp what Christmas is all about, which Linus dismisses as Charlie Brown's typical behavior at first. Later, Charlie Brown goes to visit Lucy at her psychiatric booth, and she recommends that he direct the school's Nativity pageant in order to lift his spirits. On his way to the auditorium, Charlie Brown finds his dog, Snoopy, decorating his doghouse for a neighborhood lights and display contest. Dismayed to see that his dog has gone commercial, Charlie Brown then runs into his sister, Sally, who asks him to write her letter to Santa Claus; when she tells him to put in a request for money, he becomes even more dismayed.
Charlie Brown arrives at the rehearsals and has Lucy assign everyone their roles. But try as he may, he cannot seem to get control of the situation, as the uncooperative kids are more interested in modernizing the play with dancing and lively music, particularly Schroeder's rendition of "Linus and Lucy". Charlie Brown, on the other hand, is determined not to let the play become commercial and to focus on the traditional side of the story.
Thinking the play requires "the proper mood", Charlie Brown decides they need a Christmas tree, so Lucy dispatches Charlie Brown to go get a "big, shiny aluminum tree". Accompanied by Linus, Charlie Brown heads off to the Christmas tree lot and finds a small baby tree which is the only real tree on the lot. Linus is not sure about Charlie Brown's choice, but Charlie Brown is convinced that after decorating it, it will be just right for the play.
When they return to the school auditorium with the tree, everybody, especially Snoopy, laughs at Charlie Brown about his choice. Second guessing himself, Charlie Brown begins to wonder if he really knows what Christmas is all about, loudly asking if anyone can tell him what Christmas is all about, to which Linus eloquently responds by quoting the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, verses 8 through 14 from the Authorized King James Version:
|“||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 good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David: a Saviour, 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, good will toward men'.
That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown now realizes he does not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. With a newly found sense of inspiration, he quietly heads home with the tree, deciding to decorate it and show the others it will work in the play. He arrives home to find that Snoopy's doghouse has won first prize in the decorating contest. But when he places a shiny red ornament from the doghouse onto his tree, the whole thing bends over, and Charlie Brown is shocked that he has killed it and says that everything he touches gets ruined. However, the rest of the gang comes to fix his tree with Linus wrapping his blanket around it and everyone else placing the remaining decorations from Snoopy's doghouse on it, much to Charlie Brown's surprise, and then singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" along with him.
Production and reception
Bringing the Peanuts characters to television was not an easy task. The production was done on a low budget, resulting in a somewhat choppy animation style and, from a technical standpoint, poorly mixed sound. With the exception of the actors who voiced Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins), Linus (Christopher Shea), and Lucy (Tracy Stratford), none of the children had any experience doing voice work.
CBS' network executives were not at all keen on several aspects of the show, forcing Schulz and Melendez to wage some serious battles to preserve their vision. Among them, the executives had problems with the scene with Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke, because they assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Version of the Bible. However, Charles Schulz insisted on keeping this scene in, remarking, "If we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?" (It could also be worth noting that Linus's recitation was incorporated in such a way that it forms the climax of the special, thus making it impossible to successfully edit out.) The executives also disliked the absence of a laugh track, the use of children doing the voice acting, and the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi (which they thought would not work well for a children's program). When executives saw the final product, they were horrified and 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." Mendelson and Melendez said to themselves, "We've just ruined Charlie Brown."
To the surprise of both the producers and the executives, the special's premiere was the second-highest rated program of the week, reaching well over 15 million homes. Second only to Bonanza, it was watched by more people watched that week than Lucille Ball, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Beverly Hillbillies.
In the following years, the special reached an even larger audience. Two of its airings appear on the "All-Time Top 10 Christmas Ratings" list -- 1967, which got a 34.3, and 1969, which got a 34.8 rating. The only other shows rated higher than the 1969 Charlie Brown Christmas broadcast are the annual Bob Hope Christmas Specials, a popular tradition in the late 60s and early 70s.
CBS held broadcast rights to the special from 1965 through 2000. In that time, almost all subsequent Peanuts specials premiered on that network. To date, the special's only known broadcast on cable television in the US was on Nickelodeon on February 15, 2000, as part of a special four-hour marathon of Peanuts specials, aired as a tribute to Charles Schulz following his passing three days earlier.
After the turn of the century, ABC took over broadcast rights to this and other Peanuts animated holiday specials in 2001. To allow the full special to play, ABC's broadcasts usually ran for an hour-length slot, with Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales, which premiered in 2002, filling out the rest of the hour. Prior to the later special being made, the ABC broadcasts in 2001 instead had a "making of" documentary accompanying the original special. The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, curiously, has not accompanied the original special on any home video release, instead only appearing as a bonus feature on Paramount's DVD release of I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown.
The 2015 broadcast, in honor of the special's 50th anniversary, was preceded by a retrospective special titled It's Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown, hosted by Kristen Bell. The documentary featured performances of various Peanuts songs by David Benoit, Sarah McLaughlan, Matthew Morrison, Boyz II Men, Kristen Chenoweth (who had played Sally in the 1999 Broadway revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and provided the vocal effects of Fifi in The Peanuts Movie), Pentatonix, and the All-American Boys Chorus. It also included interviews with the cast and crew members (including one with Stacy Ferguson, who voiced Sally in 1984 and 1985) and montages of clips from later Peanuts cartoons (originally used in the 1990 anniversary special You Don't Look 40, Charlie Brown).
In 2020, ABC lost the rights to air the Peanuts holiday specials, which moved to being streamed on Apple TV+, with this one being added to the service on December 4th. However, Apple TV allowed it to be broadcast on PBS on December 13th. PBS aired the special again on December 19, 2021.
The special was first released to home video by Hi-Top Video in 1984. It was released on VHS again in 1990, this time being sold exclusively at Shell gas stations.
The special was released on VHS once again when Paramount Home Video acquired the video rights to the Peanuts cartoons in 1994. Paramount reissued the tape two years later, this time in a plastic case. At the same time, they also released it to Laserdisc; this release also included the non-holiday Peanuts special You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown. Paramount later released the special on DVD in 2000, where it was accompanied by It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown. This DVD was also sold in a box set alongside Paramount's DVD releases of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
Following Warner Home Video's acquisition of the video rights to the Peanuts specials, a "Remastered Deluxe Edition" DVD was released on September 23, 2008, again with It's Christmastime Again as a bonus special, but also with a new behind-the-scenes featurette. Like Paramount, Warner Home Video also included the DVD in a box set with their own DVDs of the Halloween and Thanksgiving specials. A year later, Warner released a Blu-ray of the special, containing the same content as the DVD. Warner Home Video also included the special in the 2-disc Peanuts 1960s Collection DVD set, released on July 7, 2009. The special was released on DVD again, this time with a "50th Anniversary Edition" label, on December 2, 2014 (a full year before the special's actual 50th anniversary). An Ultra HD Blu-ray version was made available as part of a box set with the Halloween and Thanksgiving specials on October 10, 2017, and then released individually on October 24th; this release included the contents of Warner's previous releases and also added in a third special, It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. The following year, a new "Special Edition" Blu-ray release (of the non-Ultra HD variety), containing the contents from the Ultra HD release, was made available exclusively at Target stores. This Blu-ray became available at general retailers on September 10, 2019.
Outside of physical media, Warner also made the special available as an Apple TV and PlayStation Network digital download, again accompanied by It's Christmastime Again and It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown.
The special has not been shown in its full original form since the 1960s, due to having to cut out plugs for the special's original sponsor, Coca-Cola. In the original airing, immediately following Charlie Brown crashing into the tree during the opening sequence, Snoopy then tosses Linus at a sign that says "Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola" (an alternate take, in which the sign instead says "DANGER", was made and used in early promos advertising the special, but it is unknown what happened to this version), and the closing credits used to close with a subtitle reading "Merry Christmas from your local Coca-Cola bottler." In addition to the Coca-Cola sponsor tags being removed, several other edits were made to the special that have remained in all subsequent broadcasts and releases:
- Some background music and sound effects that were previously missing were added in. Some shots were also slightly extended for better timing (such as Lucy noticing Snoopy mocking her, and Charlie Brown's reaction to the decorated tree).
- Snoopy decorating his doghouse was originally accompanied by the instrumental to "Christmas Time is Here"; in the revised version, it was replaced by the "Surfin' Snoopy" music (originally used in Charlie Brown's All-Stars), and more sounds were added in for Snoopy putting up his decorations. Also, in the original version, Charlie Brown reading the flier for the decorating contest did not include the phrase "Spectacular super-colossal neighborhood Christmas lights-and-display contest," resulting in him awkwardly pausing for a few seconds before giving his reaction. For the revised version, new dialogue of him reading the full flier text was spliced in (including a new recording of his reaction to the contest).
- When the kids applaud for Charlie Brown when he arrives at the auditorium, Snoopy's howling is longer and higher pitched in the revised version.
- In the original version, the camera was not zoomed in on Lucy's hand showing her "five good reasons" when ordering Linus to memorize his script.
- The iconic shot of the kids dancing to "Linus and Lucy" was repeated two more times in the original version. For the revised version, the third occurrence (when Charlie Brown tells Schroeder to "set the mood for the first scene") was replaced with a new close-up shot of Schroeder playing his piano, while the fourth occurrence (after Charlie Brown calls, "Places! Action!") was replaced with some new animation of the kids dancing to the music.
- In the original version, the camera was zoomed out too far during the shot of Frieda complaining about having to work with Pig-Pen, and again in the shot of Charlie Brown picking up the megaphone.
- When Snoopy shows off his "lunch break" tricks, it was accompanied by a different set of sound effects, and his dinner bowl was white instead of red.
- An animation error where Charlie Brown's nose disappeared (during Lucy asking, "Look, Charlie Brown, what do you want?") was fixed.
- Linus tapping his fist against one of the aluminum trees was a gag added in the revised version.
- When Charlie Brown and Linus find the tree, Linus' remark ("Gee, do they still make wooden Christmas trees?") was made onscreen in the revised version.
- The last shot of Linus' Bible quotation was reanimated and slightly extended, though oddly creating a continuity error in that he is holding his blanket in the shot, right before picking it up off the ground in the very next shot.
- In the revised version, a commercial fade-out was placed right before the scene of Charlie Brown finding out that Snoopy's doghouse won first prize in the decorating contest (in the original version, there was simply a cut to that scene from the previous one). Also, Charlie Brown's reaction to seeing the first-place ribbon was reanimated.
- A brief pause when the kids decorate the tree was removed.
- When the kids show Charlie Brown the decorated tree and begin to sing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" at the end, Snoopy appears to be moving his mouth to the words along with them and Charlie Brown's face turns red (as if he's blushing) right before he joins in the song. Both of these oddities were fixed in the revised cut.
From the 1970s through 1996, subsequent broadcasts cut out the scene where Lucy, Schroeder, Charlie Brown and Linus throw snowballs at a tin can on a fence; further broadcasts in the early 1990s also removed the preceding part where Patty and Linus catch snowflakes on their tongues. Both scenes were reinstated in the 1990 VHS release (and all subsequent video releases) and later returned to the televised broadcasts in 1997.
In 2009 and 2011, ABC aired a shortened version of the special alongside the premieres of the Prep & Landing specials, with the unedited version (and Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales) airing a week later. In addition to again removing the above-mentioned scene with the kids catching snowflakes on their tongues and throwing snowballs at the can, these particular broadcasts also had the following scenes cut:
- Charlie Brown passing by Pig-Pen building a snowman and Snoopy eating a stack of bones while reading a newspaper on top of his doghouse.
- Sally asking Charlie Brown to help her write a letter to Santa Claus.
- Shermy's only line after being informed by Lucy that he will be playing a shepherd.
- Lucy asking Schroeder to play a simple version of "Jingle Bells", only to hear him play three versions of it (conventional piano, Hammond organ, and toy piano on one finger).
The special features original music written by Vince Guaraldi, and performed by his jazz trio. The versions of the tracks used in the special are original alternate takes and do not appear on the album however.
A soundtrack album of the special's musical score was released in 1965 by Fantasy Records, which was Guaraldi's home label at the time. The album became an instant classic, and remains available to this day. A single of "Christmas Time is Here", backed with "What Child is This?", was also released. In 2006 a special edition version of the album was released including the rare alternate takes of "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmas is Coming" that were used in the television special as well as an extended intro for "O Tannenbaum" and an alternate vocal take of "Christmas Time Is Here".
In addition to the score album, in 1977 Charlie Brown Records (distributed by Disneyland/Buena Vista Records) released a book and record set, with a catalogue number of 3701, containing an LP of the special's entire soundtrack (with some very minor cuts), including songs, dialogue, and sound effects. It also included a 12-page booklet with pictures from the special. Charlie Brown Records also released a condensed version of the special's story on a 7" 33 1/3 RPM book and record set, with a catalogue number of 401.
Parts of the special's score - specifically, "Christmas Time is Here", "Christmas is Coming", and "Skating" - were rearranged by Christophe Beck for the score to The Peanuts Movie in 2015. The original "Christmas Time is Here" song and the original "Skating" underscore also appear on the movie's soundtrack.
- Aluminum Christmas trees, like the kind Lucy recommends Charlie Brown getting, were a real-life holiday decoration that were popular at the time this special aired, though they were artificial trees with metallic needles rather than the hollow metal cones seen in the tree lot that Charlie Brown and Linus visit. Aluminum trees became a lot less popular after the advent of this special and were no longer around by 1970, to the point that younger viewers would likely think they were something made up for the story (to the point that TV Tropes' page about this trope is named after the line). Artificial trees are now made to look closer to real trees, with only the "trunks" being made of any kind of metal.
- Christopher Shea, who voiced Linus, would star in the first Christmas episode of That Girl, "Christmas And The Hard Luck Kid", broadcast a year later.
- In a real-life version of life imitating art, because of budget cuts, the city of Concord, California had a "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" for the 2009 holiday season in the city's Todos Santos Plaza.
References in other media
- In the Full House episode "Our Very First Christmas Show", when the family complains about the presents being lost, Jesse gives a speech explaining the true meaning of Christmas, similar to Linus'.
- In the TaleSpin episode "Jolly Molly Christmas", the Air Pirates have a small Christmas tree that resembles the one Charlie Brown picked out.
- A Charlie Brown-like Christmas tree makes an appearance on the set of the Joker's TV special in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Christmas With the Joker".
- During the song at the end of the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special", the line "If your Christmas tree's pathetic" is illustrated by a shot of Buster and Babs, drawn to look like Charlie Brown and Lucy, coming upon a tree like the one in the special, which then crumbles.
- In the Futurama episode "Xmas Story", a group of kids appear skating similar to the opening scene, right before Bender, having just fallen off a cliff, crashes through the ice and causes them to fall into the water.
- In two of the segments produced for A Very Cartoon Cartoon Fridays Holiday Special, characters from Dexter's Laboratory, Cow and Chicken, Johnny Bravo, The Powerpuff Girls, Ed, Edd n Eddy, and Courage the Cowardly Dog are shown mimicking the dancing scene and the closing scene.
- At the end of "A Johnny Bravo Christmas", Johnny and some of his party guests are shown mimicking the Peanuts gang's dancing moves.
- The FoxTrot strip published on December 20, 2001, has Peter watching the special on TV as an excuse to not do his homework. Andy makes him go do his homework anyway, though, because they have the special on videotape.
- The Sunday strip published on December 17, 2006, has Roger trying to find a Christmas tree, but all the ones at the lot are already sold. He then sees a little tree that hasn't been sold. The last panel shows him screaming in despair when he finds Linus and Charlie Brown walking away with the tree (which looks just like the one from the special).
- From 2002 through 2005, Nickelodeon ran a series of vignettes every Christmas, one of them a parody of A Charlie Brown Christmas starring the characters from Rugrats. Titled "A Chuckie Finster Christmas, Channukah, Kwaanza, Winter Solstice", the spot features Chuckie taking the role of Charlie Brown and Tommy taking the role of Linus later attempts his recitation of Luke 2:8-14 in the Bible, prompting Angelica to scream "You blockhead! It's about the presents! Lots and lots of presents!", which the rest of the babies agree on.
- In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius episode "Party at Neutron's", three of the kids at Jimmy Neutron's party can be seen imitating the dancing scene, with the background music played during that moment sounding almost similar to "Linus and Lucy". The same dance is seen at the end of "The Eggpire Strikes Back".
- In The Fairly OddParents movie Channel Chasers, Charlie Brown's Christmas tree can be seen in the world of the Christmas special that Timmy, Cosmo, and Wanda briefly visit.
- In the Kim Possible episode "A Very Possible Christmas", after Ron foils his plans, Dr. Drakken yells out "All I want is what's coming to me! All I want is my fair share!"
- The Simpsons made the following references to the special:
- "Treehouse of Horror IV" ends with the cast humming "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" in the same way the kids did at the end of this special (complete with snow and Santa's Little Helper dancing like Snoopy).
- Similarly, the Christmas episode "'Tis the Fifteenth Season" ends with the cast singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" in the same manner as the ending to A Charlie Brown Christmas.
- A later Halloween episode, "Treehouse of Horror IXX", features a imitation of the dancing scene in the segment "It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse!" (which itself is a parody of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown).
- The episode "Donnie Fatso", had Charlie Brown's Christmas tree make a cameo as Nelson Muntz's Christmas tree in the opening sequence's couch gag.
- The Internet cartoon Homestar Runner has made several references to the special, among other Peanuts references. "A Holiday Greeting", for instance, features Strong Bad trying to sing "O Holy Night" in an auditorium identical to the one seen in the special.
- The Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends Christmas episode, "A Lost Claus", uses a jazz musical style in the soundtrack similar to this special. It also features a cameo appearance by Snoopy's decorated doghouse and Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.
- A deleted scene from Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas shows a young Daffy Duck trying unsuccessfully to hang an ornament on a Christmas tree resembling Charlie Brown's.
- At the beginning of the American Dad! episode "The Most Adequate Christmas Ever", Haley states "I picked up all the Charlie Brown holiday specials, from the very first one where he learns the true meaning of Christmas to the one from the '80s where he meets the kid with AIDs." (The latter description is probably a reference to the 1990 Peanuts special Why, Charlie Brown, Why?, which featured a character with leukemia and had a few scenes set during Christmas time.)
- In the Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! episode "O' Figgity Fig Tree", there is a parody of the dance scene of the special. Also, in "A Great and Grumpy Holiday", Wubbzy goes past the tree from the special while looking for a tree to put in Wuzzleburg Square (and muttering "Oh, good grief" in response).
- The end credits of Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation! has a shot with Phineas, Ferb, and their friends mimicking the dancing scene.
- During the opening theme to Fanboy and Chum Chum, in the line "Fanboy, Chum Chum, come on everybody, sing," Chum Chum does the same dance that 3 and 4 do.
- Charlie Brown's Christmas tree can be seen in the background of Magee's office in Prep & Landing and Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice.
- In the iCarly episode "iChristmas", Carly, Sam, Freddie and Spencer hum "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing", similar to the scene where the kids hum the song. Carly also says Linus and Lucy's comments on the tree.
- Charlie Brown's Christmas tree appears in the title card for the Fish Hooks episode "Merry Fishmas, Milo".
- In the Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil episode "Poll Position", the scene with Gunther's speech about how class elections work is done similar to the scene with Linus' speech.
- The House, M.D. episode "Deception" ends with a recording of the song "Christmas Time is Here" from the special, even though it has very little to do with Christmas.
- The Johnny Test episode "Good Ol' Johnny Test" was a direct parody of the special.
- The Loud House, which has referenced Peanuts several times, has naturally made specific references to this special:
- At the beginning of "Two Boys and a Baby", Lincoln does the same dance that "5" does. Lisa also does this dance in the later episode "Party Down".
- In "Snow Bored", the shot of Lincoln crashing his sled into a tree mimics the title card shot.
- In "Homespun", in a flashback where Lynn Loud Sr. tries to fix the TV antenna, a scene resembling Charlie Brown and Linus at the brick wall in the special's opening sequence appears on the family's TV.
- The RWBY Chibi episode "Nondescript Holiday Spectacular" would have Team JNPR attempt to parody this special, only to realize that they're at the tail end of a How the Grinch Stole Christmas! parody too late.
- In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Plankton's Old Chum", when Plankton asks "Isn't there anyone that knows the true meaning of Chum Day?", SpongeBob attempts to explain it in a manner resembling Linus' speech.
- In the opening sequence of the Big City Greens episode "Green Christmas", Bill, Tilly, Cricket, and Nancy briefly imitate the dancing scene.
|Peter Robbins||Charlie Brown|
|Tracy Stratford||Lucy van Pelt|
|Christopher Shea||Linus van Pelt|
|Kathy Steinberg||Sally Brown|
|Sally Dryer||Violet Gray|
- A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, by Lee Mendelson with reminiscences by Bill Melendez. 2000, HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
- club/html/e3.html Archived TV schedule from the official Peanuts website
- Platypus Comix: Rarest Moments From Your Favorite Shows
- City Opts for "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree", KTVU.com, December 4, 2009; retrieved December 13, 2009
- 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas - an album released for the special's 40th anniversary
- Peanuts Wiki: A Charlie Brown Christmas
- A Charlie Brown Christmas at the Internet Movie Database
- A Charlie Brown Christmas at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- A Charlie Brown Christmas at Allmovie
- A Charlie Brown Christmas at TV Tropes
- A Charlie Brown Christmas at Behind the Voice Actors