On 3rd day of Christmas … I watched retro special It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown

(courtesy TMDB)

Christmas isn’t Christmas without the gang from Charles M. Schulz’s much-loved comic strip, Peanuts, making a very welcome appearance.

While most people will generally play the 1965 classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas – and for good reason; it’s a sublime piece of festive joy – it’s 1992 successor, It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, written by Schulz and directed, as were all the iconic Peanuts specials, Bill Melendez, is also deserving of your attention.

Granted it doesn’t quite hit the heart in the same as its predecessor, resembling a series of cosy character studies with a Christmas twist, but it evokes that lovely sense of community, whimsy and raw humanity that is the hallmark of the comic strip, and which found a perfect in the delightfully strange surrounds of the festive season.

The special begins with good ol’ Charlie Brown (Jamie E. Smith) once again trying to do something to get ahead and finding himself sent backwards to yet another disappointing degree.

He’s trying to sell Christmas wreaths, alas before Thanksgiving, and as a result is attracting zero sales from the neighbourhood kids and the always unseen adults, who either reject his pitch out of hand or decide to take the wreath as a sample.

Not even good old Sally (Mindy Ann Martin) can make any headway, and she has an hilariously odd approach to trying to secure a sale which appalls her big brother, and so once again poor old Charlie Brown finds himself out of festive luck, a run that continues when he sells all his comic books to buy a present for girlfriend Peggy Jean only to find she’s impossible to buy for, and when his attempts to explain what Christmas really means go absolutely nowhere as they hit an unyielding block of Sallyness.

It something that Linus (John Christian Graas) experiences when he attempts to convince a gift-obsessed Sally, who is all into the getting, not the giving, that there’s a weightier reason for Christmas’s existence that a bundle of retail anticipation.

Much of the amusement of this segment comes from Sally, who never met an idiosyncratically incorrect position that she didn’t want to embrace, simply refusing with her humourously self-involved way, to accept Christmas might have some deeper meaning.

In-between all these comedically serious segments, we are treated to Snoopy and Woodstock tapdancing with candy canes, as one does, and making sweet festive music atop all manner of wintertime constructions.

As you’d expect, Snoopy operates in a fantastically world set apart from the rest of us and it’s on full display in It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown which really leaps into the micro-episodic nature of its make-up and has a ball with it, evidenced by the way in which Peppermint Patty (Phillips Lucier) struggles to make sense of Christmas book reports and the fact that the writer of The Messiah may not, in fact, be one Joe Handel (though her school report begs to argue otherwise).

The special culminates in all the kids being in a Christmas play, a major event on their calendar which Patty expects will land her coveted role of Mary, a gig which to her shock goes to ever-supportive Marcie (Lindsay Benesch) who’s quietly pleased her teacher picked for the nativity play’s next-to-top role.

Hilariously Patty ends up as a sheep, a role that comes with few dialogue demands – read NONE – and yet which still trips up the nervous girl who keeps forgetting all she has to say is “Baaaaa!”

Sweet, funnily and beguilingly sincere, It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown may not measure up to A Charlie Brown Christmas in narrative heft or emotional impact, but it delivers on the quirkily whimsical front and the meaning of the season messaging which is never heavy-handed and which seeks to remind people of the reason Christmas exists in the first place.

Much of the joy of watching this special is being embraced by the warmth of the Peanuts world which, while it may not always be supportive or caring, feels like a perpetual hug, a reassurance that even though life may not be fair or people are kind as you want them to be, that sometimes its enough just to belong in a particular with people who know you and whom you know intimately and well.

You do have to feel for the show’s lead protagonists, Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty, neither of whom quite have a good time of it this Christmastime, but one ameliorating factor is that at the end of the day, for good or for bad (or for humourous frustration), everyone in the Peanuts neighbourhood has each other and if Christmas means anything beyond “getting” – Sally, of course, won’t believe you – it’s that sense of being enveloped in community and the safety and love of others which can mean more at Christmas than any other time of the year.

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