How Charlie Brown inspired me to get a Christmas tree

It’s my first Christmas in my first “Grown Up” apartment, so we’re currently confronting the age-old dilemma of “what do I for a Christmas tree”…and I’m sick about it. My roommate and my mother, respectively, have broached the idea of using a big pink plastic tree-in-a-box with all the girlish trimmings (my roommate even suggested having hers shipped from her parents’ in Detroit). And while I respect trees of all colors, there’s something in me that really wants to adopt a fresh, pine-friendly baby tree and make it my own. And that something is A Charlie Brown Christmas, the holiday classic that just happens to turn 50 tomorrow.

See, I grew up in a Pro-Peanuts family, with my Papou and YiaYia—she of many cardigans—long inspired by the 1965 special. Every year they had this grand tradition of taking in the skimpiest trees that nobody wanted, and they would decorate it with all the glittering trimmings of rainbow lights and silver tinsel. Skinny as the tree would always be, it would sparkle because of the care they put into it. It was something that made me love them a whole lot…and that idea was pretty much my favorite part of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

In the special, the symbolism is heavy: Charlie Brown is one of pop culture’s most lovable losers, a sweet boy who can’t get a single Christmas card. All he wants is to give the season a sense of real purpose yet he just can’t garner any respect from his peers. Of course, such a sad but genuine lad would pick up an authentic but depressed tree, of course. So when he brings it over to be the center of the Christmas play, the rest of the Peanuts are quick to tear both boy and tree down mercilessly, leaving everyone defeated.

But a change of heart happens, and instead of the Peanuts mocking it with no results, they build it up, and it’s radiant. Their collective caring (and Snoopy’s decorations) makes it beautiful again. As Linus says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” Don’t we all this time of year?

That said, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a special that covers a gamut of subjects, making the tree more of a tertiary character. There is, via Linus’ speech, strong Christian overtones (if you’re into that kind of thing) and an ongoing cynicism about the materialization of the holiday. The latter always struck me as funny considering A Charlie Brown Christmas started out sponsored by Coca Cola, and is now mass marketed with its own plastic, limping trees (which, truth be told, we also have at my parents’ place).

Still, within that is a powerful sentimental message about Christmas goodness. This idea that, within the hustle and bustle of the season, the inexplicable sadness or explosive stress-induced flip-outs, kindness would prevail. That you could gather around a Christmas tree with your kin, wave your arms around wildly, and all would shimmer for a brief yet beautiful time.

So yes, Virginia, I basically want my own little tree to put love into, to care for and decorate with my darling roommate. Trust me, we’re both so battered by the holidays that we could use the bonding experience. And yeah, at the end of the day I guess it may seem frivolous to want to a “real” baby tree because of, you know, traditions long lost and a 25 minute cartoon classic. What can I say? I remain steadfast in celebrating the specials that warm our hearts, and the people who make us shine.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

[Image via ABC/Peanuts]

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