Merriam-Webster defines a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” It’s a word that seems to get used often – especially around Christmas. Movies and books have been titled “Christmas Miracle”. The term is often used to describe news events, sports plays, and other seasonal occurrences. Of course, the original Christmas miracle occurred nearly two thousand years ago in the town of Bethlehem. Have there been subsequent Christmas miracles?
The comic strip Peanuts, created by Charles M. Schulz, had become globally popular by the mid-1960’s. Based on that success, producer Lee Mendelson pitched the idea of a documentary about Schulz to the major television networks – all rejected the idea. Mendelson was dejected, but not for long.
The Peanuts ‘gang’ was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1965. That cover inspired a unique concept by McCann Erickson, Coca-Cola’s ad agency at the time. The idea? An animated Christmas special featuring the Peanuts gang. They approached Mendelson who responded positively, saying that he and Schulz had already discussed the idea – they hadn’t. Mendelson shared the idea with Schulz, who then wrote an outline for the premise of the show. McCann advised them that Coke had approved the idea, and that the show’s production had only a six-month window.
The show’s main premise revolved around the Peanuts gang struggling to produce a Christmas play. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Fir-Tree, Mendelson added the idea of a somewhat pathetic tree to the story. As the play’s director, Charlie Brown, the perpetual underdog with tremendous perseverance, questioned the true meaning of Christmas.
Half way through production, a McCann advertising executive stopped in to check on the progress. His assessment was the show would be a disaster. The musical score was jazz – a seemingly disconnect from an animated show. There was no laugh track. They were using kids voices rather than professional voice talent, as well as a local children’s choir for the musicals. The animation lacked action (Charlie Brown’s huge perfectly round head limited animation – the most active character was Snoopy).
To add some interest, Mendelson wrote lyrics for the opening score – Christmas Time is Here. Schulz continued to reject a laugh track, he insisted that Linus, a Peanuts gang character, should read a passage from the Bible’s Book of Luke.
Virtually everyone with knowledge of the project forecast failure. Had the times been different, the powers that be at CBS Television might have pulled the plug on the entire project before it aired. However, Coke had committed money and TV Guides had been printed – there was no turning back.
A Charlie Brown Christmas made its television debut on December 9, 1965 on CBS television – to rave reviews by the public and the critics! The show wound up winning both a Peabody and an Emmy Award. CBS ordered four more shows. As the reviewer for the Washington Post said: “Good old Charlie Brown, a natural born loser … finally turned up a winner.”
Charlie Brown’s rejection of the material focus of the play, his search for the true meaning of Christmas, his emotional connection to a small, sad tree (vs. the artificial variety in favor at the time), and his endless determination played well with the viewing public – there was a simpatico. The simplicity of the show, the authenticity created by using real children’s voices, the almost ‘amateurish’ feel, were magic.
A Charlie Brown Christmas achieved success in spite of the ‘experts’ because from its inception, Lee Mendelson and Charles Schulz created a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands are often the result of a miracle
The show ends with Charlie Brown’s once sad tree beautifully decorated as the entire Peanuts gang surrounded it singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
The real secret to the show’s success – the true Christmas Miracle – was the result of Linus’ spectacular reading from the Gospel of Luke (chapter 2, verses 8-14). Seven-year-old Christopher Shea’s reading couldn’t have been better.
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 tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, 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 and goodwill towards men.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas aired on ABC television last night (Dec. 21, 2017) for the fifty-second consecutive year. On the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, then President Obama referred to the show as “one of America’s most beloved traditions.” That it is.
Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, the keys to the continued success of A Charlie Brown Christmas resonate with virtually everyone. These traits apply to more than branding – they apply to our most basic human needs.
Hope – Regardless of how things might seem at any given moment, hope allows us humans to see a brighter and better future.
Resilience – Who’s more resilient than Charlie Brown? Persistence and determination – the path to success.
Peace and goodwill – This is the purpose of the original Christmas Miracle – “…on earth peace and goodwill towards men.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas is not just a fearless brand, it’s a Christmas miracle. After all, it certainly is”an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”
May the miracle of Christmas bless you today and throughout the year ahead.