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A Short History of A Charlie Brown Christmas

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

With the holiday season right around the corner, it’s finally time to start watching all of our favourite holiday movies and television specials, and where better to start than A Charlie Brown Christmas?

The famous movie was first aired on Dec. 9, 1965, on CBS. The half-hour Christmas special was produced by Lee Mendelson and directed by Bill Melendez, acting as the first TV special based on Charles M. Schulz’s famous comic strip, Peanuts. The Christmas special was written over a period of several weeks and produced with a budget of only $95,000, which was given to the producers by the Coca-Cola Company that commissioned the special. The production was launched and completed within only six months. 

The TV special was a unique one: not only was it the first TV special that was based on the Peanuts, but it also featured many unique characteristics that distinguished it from other Christmas specials. The production crew chose to hire child actors to voice the characters instead of hiring young adult actors. These voices went on to be synonymous with the Peanuts movies and television specials. 

Other than its choice in hiring child actors, the production crew also decided to have a jazz soundtrack that combined traditional Christmas music with jazz music. The music was produced by Vince Guaraldi Trio and was one of the features that set the special apart from others. The once questionable decision of putting the soundtrack on a CD sold over four million copies in the United States alone. 

With the many risky decisions and lack of time, A Charlie Brown Christmas was destined to struggle. The special was finished only 10 days before it was set to air on Dec. 9th, 1965. It was a hit with remarkable reviews and quickly became a Christmas favourite for children and adults of all ages. 

The loveable Peanuts characters are still famous and recognizable characters today in 2021. Not only have the characters been brought to the stage and to Christmas concerts all across the world in the years following its release, but they also have been the face of controversy.

In recent years, the Charlie Brown Christmas special has had its airing rights changed multiple times. For almost 34 years, A Charlie Brown Christmas was exclusively shown on CBS. In 2000, ABC acquired the rights to the television special and it aired exclusively on ABC until 2020, when Apple TV acquired the rights. Apple TV chose to make the special exclusive only to Apple TV subscribers, which made the public upset with the company. After much criticism, Apple chose PBS to be the live television broadcaster to air it on national, live television. 

Watching the Christmas special has become a holiday tradition for many families, including mine, during the Christmas season. This December, you can watch A Charlie Brown Christmas on Apple TV and on PBS. 

All information in this article was found through Whoopie Goldberg et al. The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas (DVD) by Paramount Home Entertainment (2004).

Krissy is a third-year History major with a double-minor in heritage conservation and Canadian Studies at Carleton. When she's not doing school or hanging with friends and family, Krissy enjoys reading, online shopping, talking aimlessly about history and politics, and playing hockey.
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