2015 49¢ A Charlie Brown Christmas
US #5024 pictures a scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

On December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on television.

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz had his first cartoon series published at the age of 25. Entitled Li’l Folks, it featured a character named Charlie Brown. When the syndicate opted not to renew the strip, Schulz developed a new one, named Peanuts, which debuted on October 2, 1950, in seven newspapers.

2015 49¢ Imperforate A Charlie Brown Christmas
US #5021-30c – Imperforate stamps issued for the 50th anniversary of the special

Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts had become a worldwide phenomenon by the mid-60s. After the Peanuts gang was pictured on the cover of Time Magazine, Coca-Cola commissioned a Christmas special starring the characters.

2015 49¢ A Charlie Brown Christmas
US #5021-30 – Stamps picturing scenes from the special issued for its 50th anniversary

A Charlie Brown Christmas was written and animated in just six months. The script was simple, sparse, and heavily influenced by Schulz’s background. Deeply religious, he wanted to focus on what he believed the “true meaning of Christmas” to be. Schulz then added secular themes taken from his Minnesota childhood, including a school play, falling snow, and ice-skating.

2015 49¢ A Charlie Brown Christmas with Digital Color Cancel
US #5021-30 – Set of 10 A Charlie Brown Christmas First Day Covers with Digital Color Cancel

Professional child actors were only used for the voices of Charlie Brown and Linus. Schulz convinced the producers to use regular children for the remaining characters. Studio employees took tape recorders home and had their children audition for the part. Gibberish was recorded for Snoopy and sped up to make his unique sound. Schulz also resisted the use of a laugh track, which was widely used during the ’60s.

Television producer Lee Mendelson was the driving force behind A Charlie Brown Christmas. Composer and conductor Vince Guaraldi provided jazzy original songs, resulting in a fresh, up-tempo holiday sound unlike any before it.

Mendelson was a 32-year-old documentary maker whose first work was about Willie Mays. Seeing a Peanuts comic strip about Charlie Brown’s baseball team, he decided he had “done the world’s greatest baseball player, now he should do the world’s worst…” Charles Schulz agreed, beginning a 30-year collaboration that resulted in over 40 animated Peanuts specials.

2001 Gibraltar
Gibraltar #894a was issued for Christmas 2001.

As he began production on A Charlie Brown Christmas, Mendelson approached Guaraldi to arrange the soundtrack. Guaraldi wrote “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas Time Is Here” for the special. A choir of children, some chosen because they were slightly off-key, was selected to record the songs. Sessions ran late into the night and ended with rewards of ice cream.

2022 Charles Schulz
US #5726a-j were issued for Charles Schulz’s 100th birthday in 2022.

The soundtrack, described as being filled with “small, observant miracles,” is a piano-based jazz score which was unheard of in programming for children. Combining an upbeat tempo with the lovable Peanuts characters introduced jazz music to an entire generation. Its charm has made it the tenth best-selling holiday album in history.

Work on A Charlie Brown Christmas was completed just 10 days before its scheduled premiere. Executives previewing the special thought it was terrible, one claiming, “My golly, we’ve killed it.” One animator, however, deemed it “the best special… this show is going to run for a hundred years.”

2022 Charles Schulz First Day Covers with Digital Color Cancels
US #5726a-j – Schulz centennial First Day Covers with Digital Color Cancels

A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered on December 9, 1965, at 7:30 p.m. It was watched by some 45 percent of the viewing audience that night – an estimated 15,490,000 homes. It was the number two show in the ratings that night, after Bonanza. In spite of the executives’ fears, it was very well received by viewers and critics alike. It was described as “delightfully novel and amusing” and “fascinating and haunting.” Another critic accurately predicted that “the Peanuts characters last night staked out a claim to a major television future.”

2001 34¢ Peanuts
US #3507 pictures Snoopy as a WWI ace fighting the Red Baron.

Fresh and innovative, A Charlie Brown Christmas featured a number of entertainment “firsts.” Together with its creator, the animated musical special also influenced the television industry, ushering in a host of changes.

A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first to use children to voice animated characters. It also established the half-hour animated special as a holiday tradition, inspiring other classics like Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

2001 34¢ Peanuts Fleetwood First Day Cover
US #3507 – Fleetwood First Day Cover

A Charlie Brown Christmas was also groundbreaking in its biblical references. When executives tried to talk Schulz out of them, he replied, “If we don’t do it, who will?” As it turned out, Linus’s recitation from the Gospel of Luke is considered one of the most powerful moments in the film.

A Charlie Brown Christmas went on to earn an Emmy and a Peabody Award and has become a holiday tradition for millions of Americans.

2018 Peanuts and The Gang, Mint Souvenir Sheet, Germany
Item #M12183 – Germany Souvenir Sheet honoring the Peanuts issued in 2018
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  1. Charlie Brown and Snoopy are fixtures of the American experience. I am glad that Schulz held his ground on the Biblical references. May God Bless you all…

  2. Interesting article but there are factual inaccuracies. The song, Linus and Lucy was not composed for A Charlie Brown Christmas. Vince Guaraldi wrote the song for a 1963 documentary on Charles Schulz, along with several other pieces. The documentary never aired and Vince used Linus and Lucy in A Charlie Brown Christmas two years later.

    The children who sang the songs for the show also were the voices for the laughter when Charlie Brown brings back the tree and the kids all laugh at him. The choir members were also the voices who yell “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown” at the end of the show.

    I was one of those choir members and we were not selected because we sang off key. Where did you get that idea? The choir was highly trained and worked with Vince Guaraldi to do the first jazz mass at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, in May 1965. The choir also performed in several live concerts with Vince.

    When Vince needed vocals for the Charlie Brown Christmas he reached out to a few of the choir members for a session. The choir members had no idea that we were going to sing for a Peanuts special until we reached the recording studio. As a professional church choir, it was very difficult to get the sound that the producers wanted. It is difficult to sound unprofessional and off key. It took many takes to get it right.

    Thanks for remembering a show that people thought would never air. Years later Charles Schulz told me that “we never thought that show would amount to much.” Thankfully, he was wrong.

  3. My family grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, and we still watch the video every December 1st, to start the Christmas season, I also have the music soundtrack on CD and record album, it’s a Christmas tradition . Thank you Mr. Charles Shulz and Mr. Vince Garaldi.

    1. Am unhappy with Apple to restrict these crucial holiday memories to streaming only and depriving main stream tv the sheer joy of the messages that bring joy to people of every age including this 83 old.

      This myopic view of Apple Inc. is disgusting. And stupid. The holiday show could have had “brought to you by your friends in Apple. And could have been a major PR message
      On regular tv. I live in mountains of Vermont whose infrastructure o
      In rural areas is akin to the 20th century . Streaming and connections poor. A good lawyer could demand that this Charlie Brown for more than 50 plus years belongs to the people for whom it was created and not to the greed of a-holes in the C suite at Apple.


  4. During our Christmas yearly family reunion we incorporate Peanuts gang along with the snow globe that explains the spirit of Christmas for all of our guests. Not to mention all the stuff ed characters which seem to come to life. Thank you for all products that make me feel alive

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