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 loveable 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’ 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. What’s not to love about Charlie Brown together with his “band” of real life children. They always put a smile on your face and warm your heart. Snoopy can always be found mixing into their lives or just relaxing on top of his dog house. Good grief! It’s wonderful!

  2. Charlie Brown and all of his other wonderful friends can’t help but to put a smile on your face. At 81 I still look forward to seeing his shows whenever and wherever I can. Thank you Charles Schultz!

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