The Dark Underside to A Charlie Brown Christmas

On Saturday I put up my Christmas tree. It looks nice, especially against the brick wall in my living room. It’s properly festive.

Yesterday evening, I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas. How could I not? It’s not Christmas without A Charlie Brown Christmas, I’ve already listened to the album at least twice since last week, and ABC will flog the special mercilessly over the next four weeks.

Last year, something about the special clicked with me — Charlie Brown is an idiot, and his closest friends are mercilessly cruel.

Here was my argument.

There’s a Christmas play. Scripts have been mimeographed. A venue has been rented. A cast has been found.

Charlie Brown knows none of this.

He doesn’t know there’s a Christmas play until Lucy tells him. He doesn’t know about the scripts or the venue. And he really doesn’t know about the cast, which just so happens to include all of his best friends and his own sister and dog.

There’s no charitable reading for this.

Either Charlie Brown is an oblivious idiot so that he was totally unaware that there would be a Christmas play, or his friends are cruel bordering on the evil by hiding this from him.

I mean, imagine this conversation:

Charlie Brown: Sally, where were you today? I couldn’t find Linus, either.’
Sally: I was at practice for the Christmas play.
Charlie Brown: Christmas play?
Sally: My Sweet Baboo and I were performing in the Christmas play down at the school. Isn’t my Sweet Baboo so lovely?
Linus: I’m not your Sweet Baboo!
Charlie Brown: Christmas play?
Linus: You should have been there, Charlie Brown!

No one looks good here.

Everyone points to A Charlie Brown Christmas as a piece of heartwarming, uplifting television, and it’s been rewarded for that. I’m not trying to ruin your Christmas here, but A Charlie Brown Christmas isn’t what you think it is. It’s a cynical piece of writing, and the characters are jerks and idiots at best.

Which, actually, makes it true to Peanuts. Charles Schulz’s comic strip was a much darker piece of work than most people realize, especially in its first two decades.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

3 thoughts on “The Dark Underside to A Charlie Brown Christmas

  1. I’ve always felt uncomfortable how the story glosses over childhood depression, alienation, and bullying. It’s clear that Lucy had been in charge of the Christmas play, and had completely dropped the ball on managing it. Sensing the impending doom of her project, she sees a reliable scapegoat in Charlie Brown, deflecting the blame of the failure of the play on his wide-eyed naiveté and overwhelming need to be liked.

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