For many, Charlie Brown and Peanuts are synonymous with the holidays, and the TV special is considered to be a classic among families; however, that wasn’t always the case.
When “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired, it was meant to be an advertisement, inspired by the well-known comic strip, and it was thrown together in a matter of months because most networks were not interested in the 30-minute special.
Coca-Cola was the company that decided to buy the special, and it eventually became one of the most popular Christmas traditions of the last 50 years.
“Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” an exhibit from the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, has made a Christmas stop at the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville. Visitors will be able to learn about the humble beginnings of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the life of Charles M. Schulz, and much more through the family-friendly exhibit.
“When they did it, it was a risk, and a lot of people at the time thought it was going to be a flop, and now more than 50 years later, it’s a classic that has withstood the test of time, and that is kind of what we are celebrating with the exhibit,” says Elizabeth Gunter, director of education and programs. “We are celebrating the fact that a group of little children trying to find the true meaning of the season is a story that can last regardless of whatever else is going on in the world.”
Gunter notes several interesting facts about the special and Schulz himself that are addressed in the exhibit that even longtime Peanuts fans may not know.
“When we look at the Christmas special, some people take for granted the history behind it,” Gunter says.
Schulz made creative decisions that at the time were far from the norm, including his decision to have children voice the characters, the inclusion of a Bible verse, and the choice to use jazz music.
“Thinking about the Bible verse being included was something that Schulz was very particular about, and that was not something that you would normally find on cable TV at that time or would you normally find it today,” Gunter says. “I think that’s an important message; it was important to him and it has stood the test of time regardless of who’s in charge of what network or anything like that. It’s a part of the story and that’s because of him.”
Gunter also notes how the choice to include jazz music was unusual at the time. “Now you hear the Peanuts Christmas song on Christmas stations and you immediately recognize it, but at the time choosing to make a children’s animated movie that was scored by jazz music didn’t really seem like a common thing, yet it’s perfectly fitting.”
The exhibit brings attention to the work and creativity that went into making this Christmas classic, and especially the creativity of Schulz. “I think just the creativity behind Charles Schulz is really moving to see how year after year he took the same characters and still found new ways to bring to life the spirit of the holidays. It’s just amazing. Especially to do it in four to six images at a time,” Gunter says.
The exhibit will offer a chance for viewers to see original cartoons created by Schulz, Peanuts memorabilia including stuffed replicas of Snoopy’s entire family, and a family style living room to sit back and relax to watch a documentary about the making of the iconic Christmas special.
The exhibit also addresses how “A Charlie Brown Christmas” became such a family classic during the holidays. In part, the special is a timeless story, and though there are aspects that were taken from the 1960s, the characters and storylines are still relatable. “In many ways today, any child could still be Charlie Brown. These characters are really so well thought out to be classic American kids and they represent a diverse background and they are coming together to celebrate many of the ways that we still celebrate today,” Gunter says. “Trying to find the perfect tree, decorating your dog house or real house, putting on the Christmas pageant. All of those things are part of our holiday tradition today.”
The special brings a sense of nostalgia; whether it’s the familiar jazz tunes that play on Christmas radio or memories of watching with family in the living room, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has touched many in the last 50 years, and will likely continue to be a holiday classic. “The Peanuts is something that has been a part of our lives for so long,” Gunter says. “As Americans, we can all come together and it’s only 30 minutes; it won’t take up all of your holiday time, but it is still a bonding moment among multiple generations of a family.”
If you go…
“Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!”
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 3, 2018 – Feb. 10, 2019
Where: Upcountry History Museum, 540 Buncombe St.
Tickets: No additional cost for members. Day admission rates are $7/child, $8/senior, $9/adult.