Today I broke down and bought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on DVD. It seems ludicrous to spend $10 on a cartoon that only 25 minutes long. But it’s not just about the cartoon; it is about reviving vivid childhood memories that flood over me while watching Charlie Brown and his sad little tree.
When I was a little girl, my father made me two VHS tapes chock full of classic Christmas cartoons and movies featuring Garfield, Yogi Bear, Buttons and Rusty, Charlie Brown, the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty, and more. All the good ones were present (and a few not-as-good ones, but I was a kid and didn’t care). I think about my father, VCR remote in hand, making these tapes for me—his little girl—and I am deeply moved. These VHS tapes are long gone, yet this year I would give hundreds of dollars just to hold one in my fickle hands, play it on my antiquated VCR, and watch with delight as Christmas came alive for my young mind. I wish I understood then what those tapes would mean to me 25 years later.
Back then it was OK to have nativity displays and talk about Jesus coming to save us all, which is probably why I like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the most. Who can forget when Linus takes center stage and recites the Christmas story? It’s one of the most beautiful, iconic moments as blanket-carrying, thoughtful Linus shares the KJV version Luke 2:8-14. The musical score, Lucy’s psychology booth, and of course, Charlie Brown’s pathetic Christmas tree add to the beauty of this cartoon. For me, it’s more than that.
While “Charlie Brown” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” are my absolute favorites, I like them all because my father introduced them to me through those videos I watched year after year. The video collection itself was an endeavor. To capture commercial-free cartoons, VHS recording meant the viewer would have to stop recording as soon as commercials hit and start recording right before the show came back on to avoid commercial interruption. Dad must have sat there and watched over eight hours of child’s programming because the commercials were carefully edited out. Occasionally, Dad missed a few seconds here and there, so toy commercials from the mid-80’s would break into the narrative. (What little girl didn’t want Voltron?)
I think about my Dad sitting there, maybe when I beckoned him to play with me or when my mother asked him to take out the trash. “No,” he argued. “I’ve got to record this show.” I probably I walked away disappointed and my mom probably rolled her eyes. A grown man watching Christmas cartoons—what nonsense! It was love for his daughter than kept him there enduring “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (and perhaps a little childhood nostalgia of his own.)
If I still had these tapes—if they hadn’t been broken with age or angrily trashed before my parents’ divorce—I would watch them once again. Over and over. I would laugh at Yogi Bear and cry with Rudolph (those other reindeer were mean). I would wonder at the mechanics of Claymation and get up to dance with the Peanuts gang as Schroeder rocked out on his mini baby grand. And I would remember, appreciate, and thank God for the gift of these videos.
So I bought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” today, not so I could forget the real meaning of Christmas in a silly, dated cartoon, but so I can remember what Christmas really means to me—a heavenly earthly Father’s love for his beloved child made real in my earthly father’s love for me.