I will be the first to admit that when it comes to Christmas, I am one big, wishy-washy mess. Christmas, to me, is what Disney World is to some other adults—a time and place where I become a kid again. In that spirit, I celebrate as if I were still running around in my pajamas with the feet and licking the 22-cent stamp for my letter to Santa.
As part of the return-to-my-childhood Yuletide traditions, I like to throw on some flannel pajamas, make some hot cocoa, and dig out the old videotape of Christmas cartoons that has collected a little dust during the past year.
This year, as I curled up and warmed my hands on my reindeer mug, I had a new thought: What lessons are taught in these cartoons? Will I want my kids to watch them? What will they observe in the likes of Charlie Brown, Frosty the Snowman, and the Grinch ?
Well, naked greed, for one thing.
In Frosty the Snowman , a magical top hat from a luckless magician, Professor Hinkle, brings the children’s snowman to life. When Hinkle finds out, he is overwhelmed by his desire for fame, and will do whatever it takes to get the hat back, even if it means disappointing the children and robbing the chubby, chilly guy of the gift of life. In the end, Frosty’s life hangs in the balance and depends on the conscience of said malicious magician. Hinkle, motivated by greed once again, only makes the right decision when Santa (in his little cameo) threatens to leave him empty-handed on Christmas Day.
In the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, forlorn Charlie Brown can’t seem to get into the spirit of Christmas. The decorations don’t do much for him, and none of his classmates seem to care enough to send him a Christmas card. He’s troubled by the commercialism that surrounds him—from his trusty dog, Snoopy, who enters a house-decorating contest for prize money, to his baby sister, Sally, who wants Santa to save time and “send money, how ‘bout tens and twenties.” Good grief, poor Charlie can’t even pick out the right tree!
The Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas has only one wish for the Christmas season: to have the residents of the cheery town of Whoville be as unhappy as he is (perhaps you know people like this). He despises their holiday happiness, from the noisy children’s toys to their annual celebration feast. The abundance of gifts, decorations, and food is what the Grinch thinks Christmas is to the Whos. In order to stop Christmas from coming, he steals all their stuff, their symbols of merriment—including the last can of Who Hash.
What struck me about these shows was how, even with little or no religious content, they manage to trudge through the slop of materialism and get down to why the season is so special. Whether it’s the triumph of good over evil, or simply the spirit of giving and the joy of living life, the characters find the true Christmas spirit in their own way.
Santa shows Frosty and the kids that there will always be Christmas magic. Linus recites the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible, inspiring the Peanuts kids to share holiday cheer with Charlie Brown—in the end they come together to decorate his sad little tree. Even the Grinch understands that Christmas still comes even without tinsel and toys, Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.