How Charlie Brown’s Christmas matters today

by Chris Zappone

In 1987 activist and writer Todd Gitlin titled the first chapter of his book about the 1960s (Years of Hope, Days of Rage), “Cornucopia and its Discontents.”

The chapter name comes to mind watching the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas. Awash in material comforts, Charlie Brown has a serious case of the Christmas blues.

As Wikipedia notes:

The story touches on the over-commercialization and secularism of Christmas, and serves to remind viewers of the true meaning of Christmas (the birth of Jesus Christ).

Part of the nostalgia for the show today may also be wrapped up in the memory of the post-war economic experience, a time of increasing commercialization, sure, but a commercialization that went hand-in-hand with the kind of rising wages which are elusive today – not just in the US but in Australia and other developed economies.

Back then, rising wages and incomes (and expectations) must have felt like a given, because they had been so consistent in post-war America.

For example, in 1965, when the show debuted, wages had increased by about 70 per cent since 1948 (for white America, at least). The memory of the horrors of World War II and the Depression didn’t exist for the Baby Boomer generation, either. Cornucopia and its Discontents, indeed.

EPIFor viewers today to look back on Charlie Brown’s Christmas, it was a time when the US middle class was economically strong. The link between rising productivity and rising wages was still very much in place. It’s against this backdrop that Charlie Brown finds aluminum Christmas trees and Snoopy’s doghouse made out as a garish Christmas display.

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown! You didn’t know how good you had it in 1965!

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