Western Animation / A Charlie Brown Christmas


"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!"
"Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about..."

This is not a Christmas Special. This is the Christmas special.note 

Produced on the cheap-and-quick for CBS in 1965† , A Charlie Brown Christmas has nonetheless gone on to become one of the most iconic Christmas works of all time. It's also one of the most successful of all time, having been reliably on TV from its debut to the modern day. In fact, if you're from a Christmas-celebrating household, chances are you've already watched this more times than you can count and we don't have to tell you anything about the plot. But where's the fun in that?

The special is based around Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters. As is his wont, Charlie Brown is having a Very Butt-Monkey holiday season: He's received no Christmas cards, he doesn't feel happy, and he's been roped into helping Lucy with her Christmas pageant. After he struggles with directing, she gives him a task: Find the perfect Christmas tree for her play. Preferably aluminum and painted pink. Charlie Brown comes back with a twig of a sapling that's too tiny to even support the weight of a single ornament, and the kids' reaction causes him to wonder if anyone knows what Christmas is really all about.

Yes, that's the whole plot. And yes, the animation is cheesy to go with it.

And yet… there's a reason this 26-minute cartoon has aired on network TV every December for 50+ years, originally on CBS and now on ABC. The special's perennial appeal is so strong that when it was edited for time to accommodate the greater number of commercials allowed in the modern era, fans raised such a stink that ABC agreed to broadcast it uncut in an hour-timeslot with a new segment, Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales, being commissioned to fill the remaining time. note 

This humble television special that no one had any faith in – CBS was fully-prepared to disown it and only aired it out of legal obligation – ended up turning Peanuts into a multimedia juggernaut, with several dozen more specials over the next four decades, a Saturday Morning Cartoon that ran for two seasons, four theatrical filmsnote , and two Broadway musicalsnote . In 2015, ABC aired a two-hour special called It's Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown, which focuses on the enduring popularity of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas contains examples of:

  • An Aesop: As well as the True Meaning of Christmas below; Don't let the commercialization of Christmas discourage you from why you celebrate it.
    • You'll never see the potential of the people (or trees) you dismiss for superficial reasons.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: The Trope Namer, of sorts (the other half would be the actual aluminum Christmas trees themselves). The special's lampooning of them is partly credited with their disappearance by the 1970's. Other than their mention here, they've been so utterly forgotten that most viewers born after 1960 think it's something made up for the show. But they were real.
    Linus: (awed) It boggles the mind.
  • Appeal to Force: Lucy has a memorable one;
    Linus: Give me one good reason I should memorize this.
    Lucy: I'll give you five good reasons. (holds up palm, starts curling in fingers) 1-2-3-4-5! (holds fist under Linus' nose)
    Linus: ...Those are good reasons. Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it's getting too dangerous!
  • Ass in a Lion Skin: Snoopy is tapped to perform the parts of all the animals in the Christmas play, including a sheep, a cow, and a penguin. (He gratuitously adds a vulture and, yes, a lion.)
  • As the Good Book Says...: Linus' short sermon is a direct quote from Luke 2:8-14.
  • Beautiful All Along: The tree.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: An unintentional example (maybe), but at one point Charlie Brown discovers a contest to win cash for the best Christmas lights and display and is left confused and shocked. ABC, who currently broadcasts the special during the season, has aired programs such as The Great Christmas Light Fight, which is, yes, basically a contest just like the one in the special taken Up to Eleven.
  • Bootstrapped Theme: The song from the dance sequence, titled "Linus and Lucy", is often considered to be Peanuts' official theme song. Not surprising, since "Linus & Lucy" is played during almost every Charlie Brown special.
  • Butt-Monkey: The special starts off with Charlie Brown completely ignored by his friends in terms of Christmas joy.
    • Also, Shermy. You know, the guy who gets one line... and it's to complain that every Christmas he always plays the shepherd.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Snoopy's Christmas lights (which he puts on his dog house for the big neighborhood Christmas light display contest... which he wins). Said lights, a symbol of "commercialization", ironically become the trimmings that give Charlie Brown's tree new life!
  • Christmas Carolers / Crowd Song: This show ends with the gang outside standing around a Christmas tree and singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". The kids start with an impromptu "ooooooooo" version after the tree's transformation, followed by the real thing when Charlie Brown shows up.
  • Demoted to Extra: Shermy, a major character in the early days of the newspaper strip, has one line in the whole special, reflecting the increasing rarity of Schulz's use of him (he made his last appearance in the strip four years later).
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest."
  • Despair Event Horizon: "I killed it."
  • Downer Beginning: For once, Charlie gets the worst of the story out of the way early — he goes to the skating pond feeling depressed and has a painful and humiliating accident being thrown against a tree by Snoopy and buried in snow when the amount on the tree's branches falls on him.
  • Dramatic Spotlight: Linus asks for one of these for his True Meaning of Christmas speech (seen in the page image for the latter.)
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After spending the whole special in a depression, Charlie Brown is inspired by Linus' speak that he shouldn't let it bother him anymore, and his brief Heroic B.S.O.D. is solved when the other kids fix the tree for him.
  • Enemy to All Living Things: Charlie Brown thinks he's this.
    Charlie Brown: "I've killed it. AUGHH! Everything I touch gets ruined!"
  • Extra Long Episode: The movie and other Peanuts specials originally ran in a standard 30 minute time slot including commercials, then got bits chopped out of them in order to accommodate more advertising. In more recent years they get run in hour long blocks so that the original can run in its entirety in 32-35 minutes, followed by one or more unrelated Peanuts shorts to fill out the hour.
  • Everybody Do the Endless Loop: The "dancing" scene, which is also one of the most-parodied and iconic sequences from the special. It currently provides the trope's page image.
  • Eyebrow Waggle: Linus gives one upon telling Lucy about turning his blanket into a sport coat.
  • Filler: ABC's current televising strategy is to combine this with Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales to fill an hour.
  • Full-Name Basis: Briefly subverted. When Lucy tells Charlie Brown that Christmas is really a racket run by an Eastern syndicate, she starts by saying, "Look, Charlie..." This is the only time she ever calls him by just his first name.
  • Hear Me the Money: Lucy loves to hear that old money plink, that beautiful sound of cold hard cash, that beautiful beautiful sound of nickels, nickels, nickels!
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: "...I killed it."
  • Hot And Cold: Even Lucy gives some sweetness, and it's not just toward Schroeder...
  • Jerkass Realization: Those who laughed at Charlie Brown's tree, Lucy especially, all have a change of heart following Linus' heartfelt speech.
    Lucy: "Charlie Brown is a blockhead....but he did get a nice tree."
  • Kicked Upstairs: It's implied Charlie Brown is the director of the Christmas play because no one trusts him in any meaningful role.
  • Limited Animation: Well, what would you expect from a Dark Age cartoon with a six-month production schedule?
  • Long Speech Tea Time: Charlie Brown's long speech to his actors finishes up by revealing that everyone's gone off to dance on the stage again.
    Charlie Brown: Am I right? I said, "AM I RIGHT?!"
    • Amusingly enough, the music picks up right after he explains his signal for "Pick up the tempo." The key to comedy is timing.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Christmas time is here... Happiness and cheer..." And yet the song sounds so sad.
    • Well, more wistful than sad — kind of like "White Christmas".
    • Possibly it's meant to symbolize Charlie Brown's inner depression and how the Christmas spirit seems shallow to him.
  • The Makeover: To a tree instead of a human, though. Oddly, adding all those ornaments onto it somehow makes it grow extra branches and foliage.
  • Mood Whiplash: The scene goes from Charlie Brown being mocked, berated, and jeered, and without even pausing to take a breath dives into Linus reciting a verse from The Bible that shames everyone there into realizing the True Meaning of Christmas.
    • The song being played during the Ice Skating Sequence, "Christmas Time Is Here". The lyrics suggest something cheery while the overall tone in the singing and piano playing is very depressing.
  • Mythology Gag: Snoopy really loves to pretend he's a vulture.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: This promo incorporates a scene from the untelevised documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown (not to be confused with the 1969 feature film of the same name) without identifying it as such.
  • Newer Than They Think: Charlie Brown is obviously suffering from holiday depression (as did Schulz himself), but it wasn't diagnosed as something clinically until much later. invoked
  • Off-Model: This special was produced cheaply and quickly; the animation suffered as a result. Look for things like, say, one kid in the background suddenly popping in front of Linus's head for one frame, or the arrangement of words on Lucy's booth changing twice in the course of a minute.
    • Schulz himself often pointed out how the Pathetic Christmas Tree inexplicably grew a few branches over the course of its time onscreen.
  • Only Friend: Linus, Pig-Pen, and Sally are the only kids at the auditorium who don't laugh at Charlie Brown and his tree.
  • Over The Top Christmas Decorations: Snoopy gives his doghouse the decorative overkill treatment and wins 1st prize in the local newspaper's Christmas decoration contest.
  • The Power of Love: What makes the tree beautiful at the end, if what Linus says is true.
  • Product Displacement:
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Charlie Brown, as director of the Christmas play, tries to be this but it's quickly made apparent that he has absolutely no control over anything.
  • Sarcasm-Blind / Insult Backfire:
    Charlie Brown: Thanks for the Christmas card you sent me, Violet.
    Violet: I didn't send you a Christmas card, Charlie Brown.
    Charlie Brown: Don't you know sarcasm when you hear it?
  • Security Blanket: Obviously, Linus, who is never without his, except when reciting the Bible verse. He drops it when he gets to the part when the angel tells the shepherds to not be afraid.
  • The Speechless: Snoopy may be a dog who can't talk, but he seems to be treated as good as human by the rest of the cast. Especially here.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: When Charlie Brown thinks he "killed" the tree after placing just one ornament on it, the rest of the kids fix it to surprise him and they all sing together, bringing the special to a wonderful finish.
  • The Syndicate: Mentioned by Lucy. This could also have been a reference to United Feature Syndicate, the group that distributed Peanuts to newspapers (and owned its copyright until recently).
    Lucy: Look, Charlie—everyone knows that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: After Lucy turns around and catches Snoopy imitating her:
    Lucy: I oughta slug you. (Slurp) UGH! I've been kissed by a dog! I have dog germs! Get some hot water, get some disinfectant, get some iodine!
    Snoopy: Bleah...
  • True Meaning of Christmas: Charlie Brown longs to find this, and Linus ultimately delivers it courtesy of the Gospel of Luke.
  • When He Smiles: After all he went through in both the special and his life in general, seeing Charlie Brown smiling is so special to see him happy for a change.

"...That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."