Mayor's Stage: Unique year still should have magical Christmas
After a failed attempt to sell the three major TV networks on the idea of an animated television series 55 years ago, producer Lee Mendelson and Charles M. Schulz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts, were commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company to create an animated Christmas special.
The two were joined by animator Bill Melendez who created more than 30,000 animation cells in about six months, a relatively short period of time given the technology of 1965.
Schulz took some unheard-of risks as he created the show, including using children to voice the characters when it was more common to use adults. He also prevailed in his insistence to include a minute-long reading from the Bible (a monologue “performed” by Linus), which was highly unusual in an entertainment show at that time. This drew a collective doubt on the show’s success.
To the delight and somewhat surprise of critics, the show was an immediate and enduring success.
For some reason, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has been on my mind this year. You might think it’s because Christmas 2020 is being compared to the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, which I’m guessing is because there’s a sense of sparseness and bleakness about it that reminds us of all we are missing due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
But that’s not it. It’s because there’s no magic in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” There’s no ghost from Christmases past. No elves making wishes come true. No mysterious train whisking people off to far-away places and saving them from sadness. It’s simply animated, child characters struggling to get along while creating a Christmas play for their families.
Or is there a different sort of magic?
With his friends chastising his choice of a Christmas tree and arguing among themselves, Charlie is wrestling with his own holiday contentment throughout the show, even shouting, “Everything I touch gets ruined!” It’s not until Linus reminds his friends of the true meaning of Christmas that the magic begins.
Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of the Christ child – when God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world not to condemn us, but that the world might be saved through Him. His birth brought a great joy that has carried for over 2,000 years.
It is during the Christmas season we are reminded of His love for us and, appropriate for 2020, it is the Christmas season that brings a time of healing and renewed strength.
Charlie Brown’s friends eventually join him out in the cold, putting their own prejudices aside and working together toward one goal. When the children remove the commercialized, over-done decorations from Snoopy’s doghouse and place them onto Charlie’s bare-needled and bending tree, they change the focus of the holiday, healing both the tree and their community.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is a great example of how, especially in a time of pandemic, we can’t underestimate the impact we can have on our neighbors and our community as a whole. When focus is removed from the commercial aspect of the holiday and placed where it belongs – on Christ and people – a magical transformation can take place.
Find joy in the challenges of this holiday season, remembering the child was born in a manger not so we can feast and gather but to bridge a gap – a gap between people and God; and a gap among people.
There’s no doubt Christmas 2020 is going to look different, but there’s no reason for it to feel any different. Ours is a community of togetherness and support. Look for ways to safely reach out to friends, family and neighbors, taking care to actively seek out those who are vulnerable.
This definitely will not be like Christmases past, but it is still Christmas and we have the ability to make it magical in a different way.
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas from my family to yours.
Richard “Ike” Stage is Grove City’s mayor.