Please note: The following text contains spoilers. Viewer discretion is also advised – A Charlie Brown Christmas is rated ‘U’.
“Good grief”, those two simple words immortalised by the beloved comic creation Charlie Brown, put into words how I often react when walking around London, at Christmastime. The bright lights, partying, frantic gift-buying… At times it can all seem a little too commercial, especially when it seems that the true meaning of Christmas is hidden away from plain sight, only to be found by those who dedicate themselves to seeking it out. But please hear me right – I’m by no means a Scrooge or a Grinch when it comes the season’s festivities, and I certainly don’t bemoan anyone who makes merry in whichever way they choose. But I can’t help but feel that even as I indulge in some delicious Christmas treats and get caught
up in the seasonal cheer, there’s something, or someone who’s
desperately missing from it all…
At times it seems as if I’m one of the few people who feel this way, but I know I’m never alone. Good old Charlie Brown, although fictional, is just as upset by the distinct lack of a reason for the season, when he says:
“…there must be something wrong with me Linus. Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”
It’s highly unusual to hear a child express that they feel depressed around the festive season, when one considers just how wonderful it can be. Even more so in a Christmas-themed TV special, that one would expect to exist only to bring joy and good cheer to its young audience. But anyone who’s ever spent any time with the Peanuts crew knows that each special works quite differently to other animated productions – especially for its time. Each short moves at a glacial pace and prioritises sharing a thoughtful message over simply being ‘entertaining’. Yes, there’s slow space in this film series, but it’s never wasted space.
For in the first few minutes of A Charlie Brown Christmas, writer (and Peanuts creator) Charles M. Schulz is laser-focussed, making a point about Christmas’ overcommercialisation in the special’s first few minutes, when Charlie expresses his sadness with Linus. Though he listens intently, Charlie’s thumb-sucking, blanket-bearing young friend just doesn’t seem to understand what he’s experiencing. And neither do most of his friends, for that matter – many of them are just desperately trying to win contests to obtain more ‘stuff’, whilst others are daydreaming about all the toys and money they’d like to have. But it seems that Schulz might understand Charlie perfectly, for as a Christian, it is likely that he was familiar with biblical teaching on the condition of the human heart (emblematic of our fallen, sinful nature), and how, when humans give themselves over to its own selfish pursuits, is never satisfied or its intentions pure: “Out of the mind come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, stealing, lying, and saying bad things against other people” (Matthew 15:19, ICB), “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NLT).
So often we feel that simply having more ‘stuff’ or chasing our dreams will make us feel more complete, or more fulfilled. But the initial excitement at receiving even the most thoughtful of presents at Christmas time can soon dissipate, and then the cycle begins again when our eyes latch onto the next item we lay our eyes upon. As humans, the Bible teaches us that we are all inbuilt with a longing for connection with God, our creator (see Genesis 1). But sadly, choosing to live in our sinful state wherein which we chase the selfish desires of our hearts, means that our relationship with Him has been severed, and we’ve been searching for substitutes to fill that God-shaped hole ever since. Relationships, money, possessions, job roles… We often look to be satisfied by all these things, but they often fail us and leave us wanting more. And so, we become occupied with the foolhardy pursuit of “chasing after (the) wind” (Ecclesiastes 6:9, NRSV). And so, we can all get to a place just like Charlie Brown, where we feel genuinely depressed, empty & even lost.
So, what’s the solution to Charlie Brown’s (and humanity’s) own brokenness and emptiness? Our solution is found only in the relative simplicity of the birth of Christ, the Son of God, who wasn’t born in a luxurious palace, but the squalor of an animal’s feeding trough. Jesus’ birth might not have seemed like a big deal, that first Christmas, but it marked the arrival of the King of Kings who was sent to save and redeem the world. He might not have appeared to be the Son of God, but it was through His birth, life, death, and resurrection that we could be reunited with God forever. And we see some semblance of this referenced in an impassioned account of the Angels’ message to the Shepherds, and to us, unexpectedly delivered by Linus. At the point of Charlie nearly tearing his hair out for not being able to find anyone who knows the true meaning of Christmas, Linus takes centre stage (literally, in their school auditorium) to recount scripture from Luke 2 (“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people…”) and ends by simply stating: "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." What follows is a stunned silence, the warming of Charlie’s heart, and the children slowly embracing a dilapidated Christmas tree over a sparkly one, which unites them. It furthers the point that what’s most important isn’t often the flashiest, newest things we can find, but the somewhat simplistic, ‘old-hat’, or the small, in the eyes of the world.
And the crux of the Christmas story is recognising that God, in His mercy and great love for the world, has provided us with all that we ever need to be satisfied in our present lives and eternity, in the person of Jesus. It is because of His birth, and later His sacrifice on the Cross, that we can know God personally. Knowing Jesus might not seem very exciting and fulfilling in the eyes of the world, but it is in Him alone that we can experience the satisfaction our hearts long for. If we choose to follow and accept Him, we will never need to look for satisfaction in gifts, relationships, money, or anything else – for in Him, we can “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, ESV) this Christmas, and beyond.
In this festive season, why not prayerfully invite a friend or family member who doesn’t yet know Jesus, to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas for themselves? Use the film’s themes to ask them what they thought of the film, if they spotted any links to Christianity and what they might think of the Gospel’s response to this subject.
If you feel able to, begin your conversation by asking them if they’ve ever felt like Charlie Brown before, and why. Ask them if their hopes for Christmas have ever failed to come to fruition, and how it made them feel.
Take the opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel message with them, encouraging them in the knowledge that when we recognise that Christmas is about Jesus and we choose to worship Him (not being consumed by the decorations, family gatherings and gifts), we find the King of Kings who brings eternal life and light to all.
Prior to watching the film for yourself, however, take a moment to pray that God would speak to you through the film. If you feel comfortable, pray this prayer over all your future, film-watching experiences:
Dear Lord, as I watch this film, I ask that you would be present here with me. Highlight to me anything within it that is honourable, anything that can be used in conversation for your Kingdom purposes. May I then use this film to speak of you to those who are lost and in great need of salvation. Amen.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is currently available to stream via Apple TV+ (U.K.)