MICHELE NORRIS, host:
On to a whole different holiday custom. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" aired for the first time in 1965. That's 40 years of Linus reciting the Christmas story, 40 years of Charlie Brown being called a blockhead, 40 years of Vince Guaraldi's sweet, jazzy score. Commentator John Moe is 37 years old, so he's never known a December when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" hasn't been around. And this year he rented it to show the program to his young son.
For people of my generation, there are few Christmas institutions more revered than "A Charlie Brown Christmas." To hear my contemporaries describe it, it's genius storytelling and spiritual brilliance. My five-year-old son found it incomprehensible. He asked: `Why does Charlie Brown say he has no friends when there are all those friends skating on the lake?' I didn't know. `And what does depressed mean?' I fumbled around an explanation. `It's like sad all the time,' I said. My son just shook his head. This was so unlike the cartoons he was used to.
Pig-Pen, the boy perpetually covered in a dusty layer of filth, was fascinating to my son. `But why is he dirty?' he wanted to know. `That's just who Pig-Pen is,' I said. `Don't his parents make him take a bath?' `No, I guess not,' I said, although I can't tell because you never really see any parents in these shows. `They don't have parents?' he asked. I said, `They probably do, but they never seem to be around.' My son gave me this look like, `What are you showing me here?' Fortunately, the line about Christmas being run by a big Eastern syndicate slipped past him.
Then there was Snoopy. He's been crowded out of our culture in recent years by "Sesame Street," "Winnie the Pooh" and assorted Japanese monsters. So all Snoopy was to my five-year-old was this dog who throws people across the lake, boos at his owner and reads the newspaper. `What kind of dog is this?' he wondered.
My son was not bothered by the cruelty of the children in the special. They're having a great time, whether joyfully skating, joyfully dancing in defiance of Charlie Brown's attempts to direct the play, joyfully laughing at the tree he brought in or joyfully caroling in that `Ooh, ooh' way at the end. My boy had no quarrel with them, but nothing agitated my son more than Charlie Brown's tree search. Lucy tells him to find a pink aluminum one, but instead he selects a tiny, sad tree, little more than a branch. But as Charlie Brown walked through the pink aluminum forest, my son was dazzled. `He should get the pink one! Are there really metal Christmas trees? Can we get one? I want a big, pink metal Christmas tree!'
The story ends with the children denuding Snoopy's doghouse of its meticulously arranged decorations. Snoopy is strangely absent. The tree is reborn and fluffier. My son and I watched the credits roll; he not having gotten it at all, me less sure of my reverence. But it led to a discussion about what Christmas was and what the decorations and presents are really about. We re-examined what we knew and talked about how we felt. Then my son, whose name happens to be Charlie, asked if we could watch it again.
NORRIS: John Moe is a host and producer at member station KUOW in Seattle.
(Soundbite of "Linus and Lucy")
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