Merry Christmas Charlie Brown! The beloved holiday special turns fifty today, so it’s a pretty special day in my house due to my love of all things Peanuts. I also love philosophy and tend to notice little lessons in films and television. (See the film section of my site’s homepage if you don’t believe me.) I do this with just about any high minded piece of media that I watch so it’s only natural that I would try to find messages in my favorite Peanuts holiday specials. Thus, I have ranked the top five Charlie Brown holiday specials by philosophic content…because why not?
#5: IT’S THE EASTER BEAGLE, CHARLIE BROWN!
Okay, I retract what I said about loving ALL things Peanuts. This one is terrible, but more philosophically minded than the New Year’s special so it made the list. The thing about The Easter Beagle is that it never really addresses Easter in the way that The Great Pumpkin or Merry Christmas do. Why is that? Because it’s too busy tackling the questions of faith and materialism that The Great Pumpkin and Merry Christmas do because it’s too busy trying to copy them! Let’s look at Lucy. She states that Easter is the “gift-getting” season and not a “time of renewal”, as Schroeder says. Materialism is a method of survival to Lucy and that’s why she exalts it. Linus also creates a new holiday mascot, the titular beagle, as he did in The Great Pumpkin and insists that planning for Easter is useless because the beagle will do it for you. A good attempt that misses the mark.
#4: A CHARLIE BROWN VALENTINE
Can love be bought with Valentines, chocolates, and love letters? Who knows? The special revolves around Charlie Brown working up the courage to talk to the Little Red Haired Girl. Charlie tries to take control of his destiny, though he unfortunately is too meek to actually succeed at it. Charlie Brown sends the Little Red Haired Girl a Valentine…anonymously, buys her chocolates that he never delivers, and spends most of the special pining after her. On the opposite side of the spectrum are Peppermint Patty, Marcy, and Sally Brown who attempt to force the boys they like to like them back as though they were Nietzschean uber mensch. The girls learn that sometimes you can’t force your will on the world.
#3: A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING
Let’s begin with the iconic scene of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown just as he is about to kick it. Charlie falls and is injured and humiliated. One could draw connections between this action and Thrasymachus’ belief in the right of the strong to rule by virtue of their strength. Lucy, while the only character to impose her physical will on others, isn’t the only Thrasymachan lady to appear in this special. Peppermint Patty takes advantage of Charlie Brown’s trade mark “wishy-washy” nature to invite herself, Marcy, and Franklin to the Browns’ Thanksgiving celebration.
Kant also shines peeks in from the background to animate Charlie Brown’s sense of duty to host his friends, even though he didn’t invite them. This duty gets in the way and only complicates things further. Though Kant wrote that a good natured person will show good will no matter how annoying the circumstances. Charlie Brown has a good heart and is compelled to do good by his
#2: MERRY CHRISTMAS CHARLIE BROWN!
A close second, Merry Christmas tells the story of Charlie Brown trying to find the true meaning of Christmas. Charlie wishes to learn what the meaning of Christmas is and embarks on a quest to find truth, like literally every philosopher ever. Charlie Brown knows that commercialism isn’t the answer and is repulsed by Snoopy’s entrance in the cash-prize house decoration contest and Sally’s request that Santa “take it easy” on himself and “just send cash…tens and twenties!” Charlie Brown tries directing the Christmas play to find the spirit of the holiday to no avail. It takes the Peanuts gang’s resident philosopher, Linus van Pelt, reciting the story of Christ’s birth to clue us all in on the true meaning of Christmas.
Christmas is about the love and hope that came into the world with the birth of Jesus Christ. Charlie Brown understands this when he and the not so impressive Christmas tree he got for the play, two beings considered to be more or less useless by everyone around them, are shown true compassion by the other members of the Peanuts gang. The love that Linus, Lucy, and the entire rest exhibit is the same that the Lord shows us. “And that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown!”
#1: IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN CHARLIE BROWN
In a purely philosophical list, The Great Pumpkin comes out on top. An excellent adaptation, whether Schulz knew it or not, of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Linus finds himself experiencing the mockery that Plato says will only be brought down upon the truly enlightened. In the Allegory of the Cave, society is kept in a cave and only sees the shadows on the walls. The shadows are all created by puppets that their masters choose to put up in front of the light. The same is true for Linus’ belief in the Great Pumpkin. Linus is the enlightened philosopher forsaken by a people that only believe what they’ve been told to believe in, like “the fat man with the red suit and the white beard who goes ho ho ho.” Perhaps the Great Pumpkin isn’t the truth, but he is to Linus who sticks to his guns and his faith in the magical pumpkin that brings presents on Halloween night.