“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a one-of-a-kind wonder when it premiered in 1965 and remains so almost 60 years later. Unlike the other jingle-belled baubles that TV throws down the chimney each year, it is melancholy and meditative. The animation is minimalist and subdued, full of grays and wafting snowflakes. I could wrap myself in the Vince Guaraldi jazz score like a quilt.
And then there’s the speech.
Charlie Brown, having Charlie-Browned his way through a disastrous attempt to direct a school pageant and the adoption of the most anemic specimen on a Christmas-tree lot, despairs over the crass materialism of the holiday and pleads for someone to tell him “what Christmas is all about.”
His friend Linus volunteers: He stands on a spotlighted stage and, as the soundtrack goes dead silent, recites a passage from the Gospel of Luke in which a band of angels proclaim the coming of Christ the Lord.
I have known people for whom the speech is a deal breaker. It’s too much Christianity for them, too directly preached. (This is not a “those were different times” thing, either; in 1965, Charles Schulz’s producers were convinced that putting the Bible on TV would be a disaster.) Some objectors are nonbelievers, some are Christian but not devout, some are, like me, Jewish.
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