You know the tale. A chronically depressed child named Charlie Brown doesn’t feel the Christmas spirit, so he tries different strategies to get in the mood – each with disastrous results. Fortunately, he makes the connection by episode’s end. (More on that in a moment.)
I can’t help comparing the perspective on Christmas in 1965 to the one we see today. There are plenty of parallels. In fact, there’s something of a “war” going on in the episode, a back-and-forth between the characters over what represents the true meaning of Christmas.
It’s amusing in a cartoon. Not so much in real life.
As a Christian, for me the holiday has a deep spiritual meaning. For others who also claim the Christian moniker, it has become a battleground upon which they claim society tries to do away with Christmas while they, the faithful, fight back.
Therein lies the PR problem – but not what these Christmas warriors believe it to be.
Let’s go back to A Charlie Brown Christmas. At a pivotal moment, Charlie Brown cries out for someone to explain the meaning of Christmas. His friend Linus takes up the challenge and quotes the Bible, specifically Luke 2:8-14 (King James Version). That’s when Charlie Brown makes the connection and joyfully walks off into the starry night, an emaciated Christmas tree in hand.
Most viewers, especially the war-on-Christmas crowd, point to Linus’ speech as the singular point of the program. It’s certainly a powerful and crucial moment, one that I love immensely.
But it’s only the first part of the message.
The rest comes immediately afterward, when Charlie Brown tries to decorate his wilting tree, nearly killing it in the process. When he wanders off in sorrow, his peers show up and note that “all it needed was a little love.” The group decorates the tree together, not only restoring it to health but making it better than ever – and astonishing Charlie Brown upon his return.
This is the part that the champions of Christmas often miss. The arrival of a Savior is the beginning of redemption and change. Those who embrace the Christian tradition are then called upon to live differently. The persecutors of Charlie Brown and his skeletal tree are transformed, becoming a collective force for support, encouragement and love.
When we think about all this from a PR perspective – that’s “public relations,” as in “connecting with people” – it’s hard to understand how snarky memes about holiday greetings, upbraiding cashiers for not using the C-word, or even criticizing the President of the United States for pointing out the love theme in the tree scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas do anything to advance the Christian message. The reality is, this is less of a war on religious values and more of a war against the Scrooge-like cynicism of those who demand that a holiday with pagan roots must be observed in their way alone.
Imagine a different scenario. Imagine what the season would become if more Christians spent less time insisting on Christmas received as they want and started acting upon Christmas given to others in meaningful ways. “Peace on Earth, goodwill to all.” It’s a radical concept, a powerful message – and easily lost in the debate over red coffee cups and what to call December parties.
The joy that Charlie Brown felt after Linus recited Scripture was directed inward; the joy his peers expressed around the tree was directed outward. Both are wondrous. Both are needed if the church is going to accurately communicate and engage the world in what Christmas and the Christian faith are all about.