Amid the avalanche of TV Christmas specials that hit our screens at this time of year, there's one little gem that always stands out. It's a simple, unpretentious cartoon that's several decades old now, but it still usually manages to earn great ratings and has been loved by many generations.
I'm guessing it's no coincidence that, out of all the Christmas specials that claim to tell us all about "the true meaning of Christmas," this little cartoon is the one that everyone remembers and watches over and over again — the one that really gets the meaning.
I'm talking, of course, about A Charlie Brown Christmas. There are so many things to recommend this show, not least of which is its gentle skewering of the commercialism that surrounds our modern idea of Christmas. "Fake Christmas," as my colleague Anne Morse has called it at our blog, The Point.
Oddly enough, commercialism has gotten so much worse since A Charlie Brown Christmas was produced in 1965, that this charming cartoon has become more and more relevant every year. There's hardly a viewer who can't identify with Charlie Brown's feeling that, somewhere in all the hype and advertising, the real meaning of Christmas has been lost.
But there are lots of anti-consumerist messages out there every Christmas. The really great thing about A Charlie Brown Christmas is that it doesn't just critique the commercialism; it offers something to counter it — something real and significant.
It doesn't just say that the true meaning of Christmas is family, or giving, or kindness, or any of the other meanings that some of the other TV specials give us — concepts that are nice and admirable in themselves, but that totally miss the mark.
In simple, sincere, but utterly effective fashion, A Charlie Brown Christmas gives us the true "true meaning of Christmas," when the famous Peanuts character Linus recites the glorious Nativity passage from the Gospel of Luke.
It's not heavy-handed, it's not an altar call, and it's not sentimental or sappy in the least. It's just a straightforward sharing of the gospel, as a direct response to the emptiness, frustration, and despair that are all that commercialism can provide.
It demonstrates what truly brings hope to the hopeless, not just at this time of year, but all year round. And it's a beautiful example of the power of Christ to infiltrate and transform culture.
This Christmas, I have an idea for you and your family. A Charlie Brown Christmas airs this year on ABC on December 7 and 16. Why not pop some popcorn or make some cookies, and invite the neighbors over for a viewing? If those dates aren't convenient for you, rent the DVD — or you can purchase it at our online store at ColsonCenter.org.
What better way to begin to share Christ with those around you than to share a nostalgic, enjoyable, no-pressure experience? And if the viewing opens the door to serious conversations about Christmas and its true meaning, that's even better.
But no matter what, your friends and neighbors will have learned the true meaning of Christmas — an all-too-rare experience during the Christmas season these days. And that's a real reason to celebrate.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: December 6, 2010