Director’s Log | November 2020

Finding the Hope in this Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Holiday Season

In the middle of the outrage about the election and resurging pandemic, another outrage bubbled quietly. Apple TV bought up the rights to the Charlie Brown holiday specials and announced stunning news. If you wanted to see “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” you were gonna have to pay for your fix.

A petition drive started, and 263,000 signatures later, Apple caved. The specials will air on PBS. Good thing. We are going to need some of their key messages if we are going to get through this strange holiday season. Here are some takeaways that may be helpful over the next few weeks:

Remember holidays are stressful in the best of times. In “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” Charlie Brown gets hornswoggled into making a Thanksgiving feast for Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Franklin. He does his best, offering up a feast of jelly beans, buttered toast and pretzel sticks—and still gets chewed out by Patty. May we all give ourselves and our loved ones some grace in these most difficult of times to do the best we can with the tools at hand.

We shouldn’t go into it expecting to change the way anyone believes. In “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” we watch as Linus is mocked for his faith in the Great Pumpkin. After a devastating no-show and the mockery of his friends he is shaken, but not stirred to change his mind. Faith is very different from science, whether it is faith in a higher power not of this earth or one who sits on the earth. With all the other stress in our lives, let’s take one year off from trying to change anyone’s beliefs over a meal.

We can make something special out of the most unpromising of situations. This is shaping up to be a holiday season like no other. It is completely natural to mourn what we aren’t likely to have—making food together, hugging each other, attending services with friends, being with family. We can see this as a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree (CBCT) holiday, focusing on the size of the tree, its lopsidedness and compare it to the trees we wish we had. Or we can find a way to make the tree we have gorgeous, simple and memorable.

So if we are going to cut slack, take a season off from conversion and see our tree as half decorated rather than half empty, what do we talk about? For the past year, IEI has trying to lift up ways to talk about some of the hardest topics through our Civic Conversations efforts. If you go to our website you can find conversations guides on a range of tricky topics, but the advice really comes down to one key commitment (see this recent David Brooks column if you can handle nine commitments).

Commit to listening, truly listening to what the other person is saying, not with the intent of refuting them, but with the intent of understanding them. Brooks recommends approaching the person with “awe.” I’m not sure I am that good a person, but I have practiced this before, and I think once you take the time the time to hear them and ask thoughtful follow-up questions, you may at least understand where they are coming from. And you may just learn something.

This is not a prescription for misery. Just give it a try with one person. And it is also not a promise that you will agree with the person you are listening to. But just try it once. Maybe by acknowledging that you have heard what they are saying and are taking it seriously, you set the stage for a real conversation (or maybe you can just decide to move on to how to turn the rest of the CBCT holiday into something special).

And check your local listings for the PBS airdates for the specials.