When we talk about A Charlie Brown Christmas, we certainly recognize that after running for 40 years, it’s now considered a classic. However, there’s a thing about Christmas “classics”; they are often not recognized for their greatness when they first arise. There is a lot of history showing how Christmas media classics can arise. It’s a Wonderful Life was not considered a major film. It was, however, thought to be in the public domain for many years, and TV stations would run it frequently during the holiday season because it cost them nothing to do so, and the constant repeated exposure drove it into people’s heart. The sardonic film A Christmas Story was a flop in the theaters (I only know one person who saw it in its theatrical release, and that’s me – I was a fan of the source material), but the owners chose to run it repeatedly on their cable network, and the film gained exposure that way. I’m not saying that you can make a bad film beloved merely by running it a lot of times, but even the good things need that help. The fact that a huge audience tuned in for the original broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas does not mean that they left feeling jolly about it.
So it was good to find a copy of Catholic Boy magazine from December 1966 and see that the vitality of the work was already being recognized. The article’s author, Father Thomas McNally, starts off by talking about that special (which was about to be rerun) and its Christian message and stance against the commercialization of the holiday, and moves on to a more general (though heavily Christian-focused) five page article on Schulz and Peanuts (with some time spent on the real Charlie Brown for whom the character is named.) In the piece, Schulz is quoted as saying “I think that any cartoon which does not freqently try to say something is not worth drawing”, a bit of a contrast to his usual comment that he just drew “funny pictures”, But then he also says that “Peanuts always has a surface joke which is there every day and the frequently something beneath the surface. Therefore, it’s good to read it with care, but don’t worry over it. Enjoy it for what is happening there.”
However, lest we think of Catholic Boy as a magazine which could see the future and thus knew that A Charlie Brown Christmas would maintain great recognition in the long term, we need merely look at the next article. It’s covering with pride the sophomore college basketball sensation Lew Alcindor, who came out of the Catholic high school basketball league and whom Catholic university Notre Dame had had a strong hope of landing. They even point out that “if he were to turn pro today, Lew could command a salary of $75,000 from the NBA”. And yes, they were right, Lew was destined for greatness… but had they known that he would convert to Islam before the end of his college career and eventually change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to reflect this religious choice, I suspect this Catholic magazine would not have thrown the spotlight on him so strongly.