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Finding the good in our grief with Charlie Brown

  • Saturday, December 12, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion

Good grief.

It surprised me how sad I was that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” would no longer air on broadcast television. I felt like I’d lost a chunk of my childhood.

In October, Apple TV+ acquired the rights to all “Peanuts” holiday specials, including “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” A great hue and cry resulted. An online petition went viral, and Apple TV+ agreed to let PBS broadcast the beloved special this Christmas season. Thank goodness for that, because in this nutty year, every one of us can identify with Charlie Brown’s struggles. Despite his best efforts, Charlie Brown’s a lovable loser whose plans never work the way he intended.

“Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz once said that Charlie Brown “must be the one who suffers because he is a caricature of the average person. Most of us are much more acquainted with losing than winning.” When he trick-or-treats, he gets rocks, not candy. When other kids exchange cards, he’s left out. When Lucy promises she won’t pull the football away as he attempts to kick it, he’s hopeful she won’t – for once – but she pulls it away again, and he goes flying onto his back.

Millions can identify with Charlie Brown’s woes in 2020. When “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired 55 years ago, on Dec. 9, 1965, it captured a whopping half of the American viewing audience. Every year, it was a big event in my childhood home.

My sisters and I packed into the family room, plugged in the Christmas tree, and turned off all the lamps so its lights would shine bright. Then we’d anxiously anticipate the show. It tells how Charlie Brown is depressed because everyone around him fails to see the true meaning of Christmas. Lucy complains about getting stupid toys, a bicycle or clothes for Christmas, saying she wants real estate.

To resolve his depression, Charlie Brown throws himself into directing a Christmas play. But that soon falls apart, too. Distraught, he follows a light in the east and finds his way to a Christmas tree lot. The tree he chooses is a small, sickly one. When he brings it back, the others mock him. But then Linus comes to the rescue. He tells Charlie Brown he knows the real meaning of Christmas and recounts the story of Christ’s birth.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men,” Linus says, quoting from the Bible. Suddenly, the other characters are transformed. Now compassionate and concerned, they decorate the tree, making it a thing of beauty. They wish Charlie Brown “Merry Christmas” and sing a carol.

Silly as it may sound, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” offers a helpful lesson during this holiday season. Despite so much that has gone wrong – despite COVID-19’s never-ending unpleasantness and restrictions – we can still choose to be cheerful. We can bring gifts to elderly neighbors who’d been stuck inside, send donations or food to those in need, and just be thankful for what we have and not dwell so much on what we’ve lost.

We’re all Charlie Brown this Christmas. So, let’s find the good in our grief this year.

Tom Purcell, the author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Purcell at Tom@TomPurcell.com.

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