Christmas is fast approaching, so I find myself thinking about the very first—and arguably most famous—of the Peanuts‘ television specials: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), which is already airing on ABC and is available to stream on Hulu. Frankly, this post is long overdue: I have intended to write more about Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and its relationship to the theological categories of Law and Gospel since my previous post on the subject months ago. This time I take a look at Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.
I can’t help but notice some important Christian themes in the special. There is, of course, the very famous scene in which Linus recites a nativity passage from the King James Version of Luke’s Gospel in an attempt to explain to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about versus the distracting commercialism of the season. As a matter of fact, there is something of a Lukan motif throughout A Charlie Brown Christmas regarding the humiliation of the exalted and the exaltation of the humble: “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” (Luke 1:52; see also 3:4-5, 14:11, and 18:14)
This theme comes across most memorably in the subplot about Charlie Brown’s wimpy tree, and in many respects Charlie Brown and his tree are one in the same—the tree is really just a projection of its owner. If you are unfamiliar with the tale, here it is including Linus’ brilliant nativity monologue—notice the many instances of both humiliation and exaltation:
Charlie Brown’s love for this imperfect tree is a lot like God’s love for us. If we are honest with ourselves, we are all Charlie Brown Christmas trees in a lot full of fake shiny pink aluminum ones. “Gee, I didn’t know they still made wooden Christmas trees,” says Linus. (As an aside, apparently the aluminum Christmas tree market basically tanked within a couple years of the making of this television special—the mighty aluminum tree was brought down from its throne.) Meanwhile, Charlie Brown exalts the humble little tree (basically a standing twig) with some undeserved love. But the other children, Lucy chief among them, have a much different opinion. Their perfect Law of Christmas trees says this one is not big enough, shiny enough, or pink enough! It cannot live up to their commercialized standards. “You were supposed to get a good tree. Can’t you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?” says Lucy. “You’ve been dumb before, Charlie Brown, but this time, you really did it.”
The tree and Charlie Brown are in need of a Savior! Who will deliver them?
Thank goodness Linus proclaims tidings of great joy of a Savior, which is Christ the Lord—the humble babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger who would paradoxically bring peace and goodwill towards men through his sacrifice. When Charlie Brown finally hears what Christmas is all about, he decides to go on loving the disgraced tree anyway. And when they witness this, the Peanuts gang follows suit, beginning with Linus, who imputes righteousness upon the tree: “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” The tree is then literally robed in righteousness not of its own making when it is redecorated and completely transfigured by the children. Lucy is forced to concede (and absolve): “Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a nice tree.”
Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!