Holiday classics remind us about what’s really important


Still from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

On Dec. 9, 1965, the Charles Schulz classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, aired for the first time. Fifty-six-year-old spoilers ahead. The show follows Charlie Brown, a hapless eight-year-old boy worried about how commercialized Christmas has become. It is suggested to him that by directing his school’s Christmas Pagent, he can get back some of his lost Christmas spirit. The problem is the pageant is filled with kids who have embraced the materialism of modern Christmas and are running full steam ahead with it. He purchases a forlorn fir Christmas tree. The tree is so tiny and fragile that the needles are falling off and bend to the ground under the weight of just one ornament. With this sad little tree and help from his friend Linus, Charlie Brown helps himself and the other Peanut characters remember Christmas’s true meaning. In the end, through the miracle of love, joy, togetherness, and friendship, the little tree becomes a beautiful, strong fir tree.

It’s a simple, beautiful story. Fifty-six years on it’s still a relevant one as well. The holidays are meant to be a time of reflection,  joy, celebration and love. Last year many people could not see their loved ones due to Covid. This year’s holiday festivities are set to come back in full force, yet with a new variant, we know little about, people may still be hesitant to gather. Maybe Charlie was right, or maybe we lose a bit of that Christmas Spirit as we grow older.

As a child, I remember the feeling of love and acceptance from the whole world at this time. Nowadays, the commercial aspect usurps the joy and feelings of mutual love in the air. There have always been toys that have driven the public crazy. Cabbage Patch Kids, Furbies, Tickle Me Elmos, Playstations, Xboxes and various Nintendo game consoles have all caused a frenzy when they were released. There is nothing wrong with getting the current, must-have toy for your little one or your inner child, but should that be the goal of the holiday. Should the lack of said toy ruin anyone’s holiday?

I am not a particularly religious person. I was brought up Catholic but realized the Church needed to look at itself and what it stood for to get back on track. I don’t think they have done that. Until Catholicism is again about helping one another, welcoming one another and loving one another no matter any particular shortcoming, I’m sitting church out. I understand the good that can be done through the practice of religion and the bad. True faith is a fantastic thing. It can heal many wounds. Today around the world religion is being used as a weapon, a cudgel with which to beat “the other.” Not very Christmas-y if you ask me.

A year before The Peanuts transformed a Christmas tree with love and faith, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer blessed our TVs with the story of an outsider who, through his own determination, became the hero of the story. You see, Rudolph was born with a red nose. That was different than any reindeer before him. Like many new things, the other reindeers and Santa ostracized him. They couldn’t see past his nose to the reindeer underneath. He leaves his family to spare them the pain of being related to him. On his journey, he meets Hermey one of Santa’s Elves who also never quite fit in. Hermey always wanted to be a dentist. obviously, an Elf is meant to make toys, not pull teeth. The two form an alliance. They meet a prospector, the Abominable Snowman, and an island filled with misfit toys no one wants…because they are different. In the end, Rudolph saves Christmas, Hermey becomes a dentist, and the misfit toys all find homes, despite their differences. There is the family you are born into and the family you make along the way. Rudolph found that with the help of his found family, he could do anything, including saving his biological family and their relationship.

If, like me, you’ve ever been considered an “other,” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer probably holds a special place in your heart, as it does in mine.

We need to look to Charlie and Rudolph and remember what Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanza are really about, what any holiday celebration is meant to show us.  If Covid has taught me anything, it is that life is tricky, it can be cut short in an instance. The spirit of these celebrations is in dire need of a reboot. It’s not about the gifts you open on Christmas morning or on one of the eight nights of Hannukah. It’s about the person who gave you those gifts. It’s about the love they feel for you. It’s about the friend you may not see often, but know they would be there in a heartbeat if you needed them. It’s about helping someone you may not know at all. Not because you have to, but because at that particular moment, they need you too.

After living through a pandemic that is still going strong, after maybe losing friends or family to it, after being forced to collectively look at our mortality, make this holiday season something special. Do what you can to make this world a better place. Love so hard a fragile, tiny tree grows big and strong. Get to know someone that society considers “other”. They are just people trying to get through the day just like anyone else. Embrace the family into which you were born and the one you’ve made along the road. You never know how long you will have the privilege to know them.

Come together and celebrate whichever holiday you embrace, and make it one that Charlie and Rudolph would love to join.