A Charlie Brown Christmas is the first of many animated television specials based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, it originally aired on CBS on December 9, 1965. In the program, Charlie Brown questions the meaning of Christmas, if it has lost its true meaning from all the commercialism.
All of the Peanuts characters that had been introduced and established as permanent in the strip by 1965 feature in the program. "Pig-Pen", Frieda and even Shermy feature in minor roles; 5 and his sisters 3 and 4 appear in non-speaking roles, performing memorable dances. Charlotte Braun had been dropped a decade earlier, and Roy had only made one guest appearance at camp that year.
Most of the Peanuts characters are skating on a frozen pond as the song "Christmas Time Is Here" plays. On his way to join them, Charlie Brown confides in Linus that even though the holidays are approaching he is starting to feel depressed despite all the presents and cards and tree decorating. His depression and aggravation only get exacerbated by the goings-on in the neighborhood. Though his mailbox is empty of christmas cards, he tries sarcastically to thank Violet for the card she sent him, though Violet knows she did no such thing. Charlie Brown cries after Violet as she walks away: "Don't you know sarcasm when you hear it?"
Ultimately, Charlie Brown visits Lucy in her psychiatric booth. On her advice, he gets involved in directing a christmas nativity play. She also sympathizes with Charlie Brown about holiday depression, always getting a lot of stupid toys instead of what she really wants: real estate. On the way to the theater, Charlie Brown is drawn to Snoopy, who is frantically and gleefully busy decorating his doghouse. When Charlie Brown demands an explanation, Snoopy hands him a flyer about a neighborhood christmas lights and display contest. Charlie Brown walks away in frustration at his own dog having been bitten by the christmas commercialization bug. He then gets accosted by Sally, who wants Charlie Brown to dictate a letter to Santa. Sally ultimately asks Santa to just send money, particularly tens and twenties, causing Charlie Brown to run away in exasperation at even his sister's secularization.
Charlie Brown arrives at the rehearsals, but try as he might, he cannot seem to get control of the situation. The uncooperative children are more interested in modernizing the play with dancing and lively music. Charlie Brown, on the other hand, is determined to not let the play become secularized, by focusing on the traditional side of the story.
Thinking the play requires the proper mood, Charlie Brown decides they need a christmas tree. So Lucy takes over the crowd and dispatches Charlie Brown to get a big shiny aluminum tree... maybe painted pink. With Linus in tow, Charlie Brown sets off on his quest. But when they get to the tree market, Charlie Brown zeroes in on a small baby tree which, with symbolic irony, is the only real tree on the lot. Linus is reluctant about Charlie Brown's choice, but Charlie Brown is convinced that with decoration it will be just right for the play.
They return to the auditorium with the tree, only to be verbally castigated by everyone, especially Lucy, about the puny tree. Second guessing himself, Charlie Brown begins to wonder if he really knows what Christmas is about, loudly asking in despair. Linus quietly says he can tell him, and walks to center stage to make his point. Under a spotlight, Linus quotes the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verses 8 through 14 from the King James Bible, in which angels from heaven tell a group of initially frightened shepherds of the birth of the baby Jesus, and instruct them as to where they can find the babe.
Charlie Brown now realizes he does not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. With a newly-found sense of inspiration, he quietly picks up the little tree and walks out of the auditorium, intending to take the tree home to decorate and show the others it will work in the play.
On the way, he stops at Snoopy's decorated doghouse, which now sports a first prize blue ribbon for winning the display contest. Letting his dog's commercialism roll off his back, Charlie Brown takes an ornament off the doghouse and hangs it on his tree, but the ornament's weight is too much for the small branch and pulls it to the ground, much to Charlie Brown's shock.
Charlie Brown, seeing the ornamented branch droop to the ground, cries, "I've killed it. Aughh! Everything I touch gets ruined!" and walks away without taking the ornament off, his head hanging in shame. Unbeknownst to Charlie Brown, the rest of the gang, having also heard Linus' recitative, began to realize they were a little too rough on Charlie Brown and quietly followed him from the auditorium. Linus goes up to the little tree and gently props the drooping branch back to its upright position, ornament and all. Linus says, "I never thought it was such a bad little tree," he wraps his blanket around the base of the trunk and adds, "It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love." The rest of the children grab the other decorations off of Snoopy's doghouse and add them to the tree.
When they have finished, even Lucy concedes to Charlie Brown's choice, saying, "Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a nice tree." The children then start humming the traditional Christmas carol, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." When Charlie Brown returns, he demands to know what is taking place. When he sees what they have done with the tree, he cannot believe his eyes, and all the children shout, "Merry christmas, Charlie Brown!" At this point, the children, joined by Charlie Brown, begin singing the carol in earnest as the end credits roll and the snow begins to fall.
- Peter Robbins – Charlie Brown
- Christopher Shea – Linus van Pelt
- Tracy Stratford – Lucy van Pelt
- Kathy Steinberg – Sally Brown
- Sally Dryer – Violet Gray
- Karen Mendelson – Patty
- Ann Altieri – Frieda
- Chris Doran – Schroeder and Shermy
- Geoffrey Ornstein – "Pig-Pen"
- Bill Melendez – Snoopy
Members of the choir of St. Paul's Episcopal Church (San Rafael, California) provided vocals for the songs "Christmas Time Is Here" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". They can be heard when all the children shout "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" at the end of the special.
The original special did not show any voice credits, but the first three voice credits have been added to contemporary broadcasts.
- This special has been repeated at least once every year since its original broadcast, making it the longest-running animated TV special in history.
- This special received 2 Emmy Award nominations, one for Special Classification of Individual Achievement and one for Outstanding Children's Program which it won.
- This is the only special in which Schroeder's piano sounds like a toy piano when he is asked to play "Jingle Bells" by Lucy. He first plays it like a conventional piano, then an organ, and finally a toy piano on one finger.
- A running gag in the special is that whenever someone says "That's it!", someone else jumps in alarm.
- This is the first of two specials in which Charlie Brown is simply called Charlie by one of the other characters. On this occasion, it is Lucy. He would later be simply referred to as Charlie again in Charlie Brown's All-Stars and in the 1969 feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
- The original broadcast preempted The Munsters.
- The original broadcast featured two very brief scenes that included references to Coca-Cola. In the opening, immediately after the title screen where Charlie Brown crashes into a tree after being tossed into the air by Snoopy, Linus crashes into a sign that reads "Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola" (An alternate take, in which the sign instead said "Danger", was made and used in early promos advertising the special, but it is unknown what happened to this version.); and during the closing credits, following the United Feature Syndicate credit, "Merry Christmas from the people who bottle Coca-Cola" fades in. Both scenes were removed following the original broadcast as a result of subsequent FCC laws precluding sponsor plugs in the context of children's programs; as a result, in all current prints, including CBS' 1997 remastered print, it quickly fades out after the opening title and the singing in the closing credits fades out.
- The can that the gang throws snowballs at has always been a generic can, even in the original broadcast. The removal of this particular scene was part of the edits done by CBS when it aired the special during the early 1990s until it was remastered in 1997, and as a result it spawned a myth in which the reason it was edited out was because the can was a Coca-Cola can.
- When they first saw the show, CBS executives were horrified at the idea of an animated Christmas special with such a blatant message. They also strongly objected to the fact that the show had no canned laughter. A version with a laugh track was produced but later discarded after the success of the broadcast version.
- Kathy Steinberg, who did the voice of Sally Brown, had not yet learned to read at the time of production, so she had to be fed her lines, often a word or syllable at a time, which explains the rather choppy delivery of the line: "All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share."
- Bill Melendez tried to talk Charles M. Schulz out of using Biblical references (especially Linus's speech) in this special. Schulz reportedly won him over by saying, "If we don't do it, who will?" As it turned out, Linus' recitation was hailed as one of the most powerful moments in the highly acclaimed special.
- In addition to the soundtrack album containing music by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, a Disney Read-Along record was later produced, which re-created the special as a radio program-like audio experience (this was before the prevalence of home video). This book-and-record set re-created almost the entire program, with only some minor cuts (primarily musical).
- Two making-of documentaries have been made: the first is The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and aired following ABC's initial airing of the special in 2001, and the second is a completely unrelated documentary that was created for Warner Home Video's 2008 Deluxe Edition DVD release.
- Television executives figured that the show would be a ratings failure, but instead, it was watched by half the American viewing public. With such spectacular ratings, those same executives soon contacted the producers for a whole series of Peanuts specials that would run for decades.
- Over the decades, the special was increasingly shortened for time to more commercials until the viewing public protested vigorously. When the broadcast rights were purchased by the ABC TV network, the network compromised with an hour-long timeslot for the special to be broadcast uncut for time, and padding out the remaining time with initially The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and then Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales in subsequent years. Of course, this arrangement also allowed the network to sell twice as many commercial spots for a reliably high-rated annual rerun.
- In the opening skating scene, the close-up of the line where Snoopy has no collar shows 5 after Patty, but in the following wide shot "Pig-Pen" is in his place.
- After Linus sums up to Charlie Brown that "That's what Christmas is all about", Charlie Brown picks up the tree he bought, and walks away from Linus toward the other kids — including a second Linus.
- After the children have decorated Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, several of them and Snoopy suddenly change position from one shot to the next, and "Pig-Pen" is added in.
- The first three years the special aired, from 1965 to 1967, the closing singing of the lyrics to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" included Snoopy mouthing the words; this was corrected in 1968 for all subsequent broadcasts. (Another change, not strictly for a goof, is that in the first three years, Charlie Brown was shown deeply blushing after the others said, "Merry christmas...", before he joined in the singing.)
- The changes made in 1968 also introduced a new error that occurs earlier in the whole scene, right after the humming of the "newborn king" line. For two frames the back-row characters in the shot are superimposed over those in the middle row: Patty appears over "Pig-Pen", Shermy appears over Linus, plus just a small bit of Violet over Frieda.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas on Christmas Specials Wiki.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas on the Internet Movie Database.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas on the Big Cartoon Database.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas on AllMovie.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas on Rotten Tomatoes.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV Tropes.
- Quotations from A Charlie Brown Christmas on Wikiquote.