Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
December 21, 2014
As the story goes, a producer had sold a Christmas special to the Coca-Cola company without actually having the Christmas special. So the producer, Lee Mendelson, called his friend Charles Schultz and said, “Good news. We’re going to create a Christmas special in less than 6 months.” Luckily they had an experienced animator, Bill Melendez, and Charles Schultz was a genius. Starting from scratch and against all odds they put together a quirky, introspective, sometimes dark cartoon with real children’s voices and jazz music and no laugh track and (at Schultz’s insistence) a bible verse. When it was complete and screened for executives, they knew it was going to be …a horrible flop. But it was too late. It was already scheduled in the TV Guide, so it had to run. As it turned out, people absolutely loved it and have every Christmas season since 1966.
It is wonderful from start to finish. And every year of my childhood when it aired I strained to remember each frame, each note, each Dolly Madison commercial in between. But the lynchpin to the whole show is Linus saying “Lights please” and then reciting Luke, chapter 2, verses 8 to 14.
“8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
12And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.”
It is quite literally what Christmas is all about. That’s what Linus tells Charlie Brown. And in that context the show moves on to play out an example of joy of redemption. Perfect.
This month — as it does many places every year — a kerfuffle regarding a nativity scene on public property played out in our state capital. This time state Senator Rick Jones played the part of the put-upon keeper of all that is holy. My thoughts went to, “What if Rick Jones had been the producer of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’?” Thank God he wasn’t. (Actually, I don’t think it would have gone that far — I’m sure Schultz would have taken care of it.)