Who knows what Christmas is all about?
BY BROOKE LINDSEY
For this year’s Advent Countdown, our writers revealed how some of their favorite classic Christmas movies reflect the true Christmas story—that is, the story of Jesus Christ, our gracious savior born fully human yet fully divine. Ultimately, when we feel that holiday classics capture the “spirit” or “magic” of Christmas, it is because they are pointing us toward the real meaning behind the narratives spun about Christmas.
Of course, if I’m being honest, when I talk about the magic of Christmas, I’m not recalling my hope in and love for the Savior… I’m thinking about the pomp and circumstance that have risen around our commemoration of His birth. I’m thinking about peppermint and presents, brightly lit trees and fresh snowflakes, cozy fireplaces and shiny gift wrap.
In other words, I’m thinking about what Charlie Brown would call Christmas gone commercial.1
In what happens to be my own favorite Christmas movie, the 1965 cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas, the titular character finds himself desperately searching to find the true meaning of Christmas amidst rampant commercial exploitation. In his pursuit of understanding, he becomes director of his school’s Christmas play—of course, when his leadership skills prove lacking, he is ultimately set out to perform a foolproof task: buying a tall, shiny, aluminum Christmas tree for the stage.
What does he find instead? The only tiny, sparse, rather sad-looking, but alive Christmas tree in the whole flashy lot.
Naturally, the other students hate it, deriding Charlie Brown for another failure. Yet at the climax of the movie, when Charlie Brown is at his most frustrated and confused about the meaning of Christmas, a meek voice cuts through the chaos: “I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” says Linus.
Rather than expounding on the typical Christmas values of community, hope, or joy, Linus cuts straight to the source of such gifts himself, without whom they are rendered meaningless. He recites directly from the book of Luke—a decision which creator Charles Schulz insisted on, even after months of creative pushback on the project, and protests about the use of Scripture from his main animators.2 Despite the colorful animation, sharp humor, and bouncing jazz music punctuating the rest of the cartoon, the simple image of Linus standing alone on the school stage, one spotlight shining upon him, forms the climax of the entire film:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks 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 unto 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 Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and 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’.”3
The brilliance of this little tree, as the characters come to find out, is that it represents the real meaning of Christmas. It teaches us that Christmas is the story of love bestowed upon the undeserving. It is a story of human dignity and respect awarded regardless of circumstances.
What Charlie Brown and Linus alone realize is that Christmas is all about the love of Jesus. And just as He came as a gift upon the world, Charlie Brown chooses the tree which he is able to give love and nurturing to—not an artificially perfect aluminum tree taken as a gift to himself. He realizes that pouring your heart into the people and things considered beneath you is infinitely more rewarding than buying or receiving.
Ultimately, his schoolmates realize it too, bestowing the very love and acceptance which Charlie Brown bestowed upon his little tree, upon Charlie Brown himself—and the tree too. The underdog of the story, expected only ever to fail, becomes the unwitting hero, and despite his flaws, is redeemed. An underwhelming tree is adorned in lights and baubles to shine just as bright as any aluminum tree would. A baby, born in a manger to impoverished, immigrant parents, grows up to become an exalted and glorified savior.
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Watch Linus’ classic monologue on YouTube:
1 Melendez, Bill, dir. (1965). A Charlie Brown Christmas. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.