How Charles Saved Christmas

There’s a school of thought that credits Charles Dickens, more than any other, with creating the Western version of Christmas as we know it today. (Read more about it in this post from seven years past.) There’s truth to that, but another Charles has done an even greater service to the season. And he used yet another Charles (actually, a Charlie) to do it.

Imagine the 4th of July where no one mentions the Declaration of Independence, the revolution, or even the USA. Or Memorial Day without a reference to veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Arbor Day without trees or Thanksgiving with no gratitude. Even worse, your birthday without mentioning you!

Unthinkable, right? Think again.

No matter your religious affiliation, it’s hard to argue that removing the birth of Christ from the celebration of Christmas isn’t blatantly unfair and patently illogical. It’s also impossible to deny the truth of it.

I went Christmas shopping yesterday. In one store, there was a display of (supposedly) Christmas ornaments. Among their number were included:

  • A Dallas Cowboys football player
  • Grogu, the baby Yoda from The Mandalorian
  • A nutcracker wielding a candy cane as a weapon
  • the Stay Puft Marshmallow man
  • Harry Potter memorabilia
  • Spiderman
  • vehicles of all shapes and sizes and colors
  • Mario and Luigi
  • a lamp made from a shapely leg in fishnet stockings

…and a whole host of other cultural icons, many of which didn’t exist ten years ago and will be forgotten ten years from now.

I don’t question the cultural appropriateness or whimsy or profitability of any of those. They have their place. However, am I a Scrooge or, worse, a right-wing ideologue to ask why there wasn’t one single reference to the events that got this whole snowball rolling in the first place? To put things in perspective, I searched the online list of the 1,126 “Christmas” ornaments sold by Hallmark, purveyor of those insipid Christmas “romance” films, that I confess to watching. It turned up exactly four that had an explicit reference to the Nativity. Sure, there were snowman angels and Precious Moments cuties but only four that referenced Jesus, and then only barely.

That brings me to Charles and Charlie. For over 70 years, “Peanuts”, the comic strip and characters created by Charles (Schulz), has been a staple of American culture and Charlie (Brown) has been its greatest symbol. Back in 1965, those two put a stake in the snow that has since been the sole standard bearer for the cause of “keeping Christ in Christmas.” They didn’t do it by whacking us over the head with a Bible or a Yule log, nor by scolding or judging the culture. They did it with a little boy clutching a security blanket and telling a simple story that has changed the world more than any other event in human history.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

I shudder to think what Christmas in America would be like without Charles and Charlie.

Start at the beginning…

harehatterSpeaking of movie trends that annoy me (which I was, though you’d have no way of knowing since you aren’t here listening to me rant) in recent years, a lot of films have messed around with the order of things. They obviously haven’t listened to the sage advice of the March Hare and Mad Hatter in Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland,

Mad Hatter: Something seems to be troubling you. Won’t you tell us all about it?

March Hare: Start at the beginning!

Mad Hatter: Yes, yes….and when you come to the end…..STOP!

It seems that once “Pulp Fiction” came along, the whole space-time continuum was thrown to the wind with scenes falling wherever they landed. The value of that gimmick can be debated in PF, but it doesn’t always work. (Opinion: It does more than work in “Memento”; it’s crucial and brilliant.)

bttfThe only places where messing around with time is always excusable are time-travel movies: the “Back to the Future” trilogy, “Déjà Vu”, “Terminator” movies, and all the rest, some good and some (and I’m thinking here of “Somewhere in Time”) excruciatingly bad. The only truly meaningful time-travel movie is the one that treats the concept with the flippancy it deserves: “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. (Good news: There will be a third B&T movie with them as adults… or as adult as they could possibly be, I’d guess.)

Less adventurous directors have decided they can hedge their bets by swapping just one scene: The end.

I can’t even count the number of films I’ve seen post-PF where the first scene is the end of the movie. This technique has been used effectively in great films such as “Sunset Boulevard” and “Citizen Kane”. None of the movies I’m thinking of are “Citizen Kane”.

Here are a few possible reasons directors use this cliché:

  1.  It was used in successful films such as “Sunset Boulevard” and “Citizen Kane”. Wrong answer.
  2. The last scene is usually a “grabber”. There’s no point grabbing the audience’s attention at the end of the movie. That could be too late. Grab’em right up front.
  3. You’re unsure whether the audience will stay awake until the end so you want make sure they see it ASAP. If that’s it, you got bigger potatoes to fry.
  4. No point waiting for critics to give away the “spoilers” when you can do it yourself.

That last one is the one that bugs me. Should these movies have a warning at the beginning the way some reviews do? Warning: This movie contains its own spoilers. They all want to be Lucy, the ultimate spoiler:rosebud

I’m waiting for this movie opening:


I have the mixed blessing of a miserable memory. True story: My wife and I were watching a movie not too long ago. As it approached the denouement, I called out – as I am wont to do – what I thought would happen next. My more able spouse corrected me. “No, he gets shot. Don’t you remember they showed it at the beginning?”

sunsetboulIt wasn’t ruined for me, but it was for her and all the other non-brain-damaged folks who watched it. The “good” news is that the movie was a flop and pretty much no one saw it. So much for copying “Sunset Boulevard”.

As a public service, I’d like to list here all those movies with built-in spoilers… but I forget what they are.