Since we are isolated and stuck inside during this Christmas season, I decided this year I was going to put together a list of of my favorite Christmas stories. The angle I took in putting this together is Christmas “pairings”, be it in book form or film. These are stories that seem to me to have a connection in spirit and focus, and which have inspired me over the years.
I have come up with 15 pairings of films/books in total, and my plan is to present those films one a day along with a brief reflection on why these stories resonated for me, how I see them fitting together, and what I think they can say to us in a more difficult Christmas season.
Here is my thirteenth pairing 🙂
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and HOLIDAY TALES: CHRISTMAS IN THE ADIRONDACKS
“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”
– Charlie Brown
Lucy Van Pelt: Are you afraid of responsibility? If you are, then you have hypengyophobia.
Charlie Brown: I don’t think that’s quite it.
Lucy Van Pelt: How about cats? If you’re afraid of cats, you have ailurophasia.
Charlie Brown: Well, sort of, but I’m not sure.
Lucy Van Pelt: Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacaphobia. Maybe you have thalassophobia. This is fear of the ocean, or gephyrobia, which is the fear of crossing bridges. Or maybe you have pantophobia. Do you think you have pantophobia?
Charlie Brown: What’s pantophobia?
Lucy Van Pelt: The fear of everything.
Charlie Brown: THAT’S IT!
There is something deeply affecting about the timelessness of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The simple nature of the message, the heartfelt and patiently crafted story, the beautiful animation. The memorable and relatable characters.
Charlies M. Schulz had a personal investment in the character of Charlie Brown, basing him off of his own struggles with depression, isolation and lonliness. And in this Christmas special we find Charlie Brown struggling with a season that often has a way of exasperbating these feelings of melancholy and remorse. He knows he is supposed to feel a certain way, and the fact that he doesn’t makes him feel less than normal. And even a counseling session with Lucy cant seem to turn his melancholic state around. It turns out he is as afraid of not feeling happy as he is about being happy.
There is a stark message evident here as well about the hypocrisy of commercialism, contrasting with the final and glorious monologue from Linus that reminds them of what Christmas is supposed to be about. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” Linus declares. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
This is where it becomes clear that Charlie Brown’s disallusionment with the world and the season reaches much further than his own, personal struggle. It is sometimes difficult in the busyness and commercialization of the season for the message of love that Christ’s birth embodies and declares to all of creation to break through our depression, our lonliness, our isolation, our feelings of being something other than happy.
In the equally classic holiday tale, Christmas in the Adirondacks, we see a similar focus on uncovering the true value of Christmas. The setting is a log cabin located in the middle of a tranquil, untouched winter landscape with a fireplace occupying its centre. Around this fireplace is food, struggle, stories, people, experiences. This fireplace symbolizes warmth and togetherness, fueled by its wood and its imaginative comforting glow. Reading this from a modern lens, the intimate depicition of a long lost era functions as a nostalgic and often poetic rendering of the classic American Christmas. The way it is able to bring a lone cabin, the remote snowy terrain, and above all a crackling fire to life and infuse it with meaning is a big part of the book’s enchantment.
There are some wonderful relgious undertones reflected in the book’s prose as well, including a poignant moment in which one of the main characters reflects on what it is to read scripture from the lens of the wonderment and good will of the Christmas story. He wonders about how it is that we make this journey from the raw and rugged stories of the Old Testament to arriving at the glorious announcment of the birth of Christ. Facing the often confusing and sometimes evasive language of scripture, he then describes the art of learning what it means to really encounter a difficult text. He speaks of the art of allowing oneself to sit in the silence with a word or a sentence waiting to see where it leads. It’s such a marvelous picture of how we can let the Chrsitmas story break through into our own story. And as the main character expresses his honest struggle, which at its heart is a spiritual one, this way of reading and encountering the Christmas story begins to connect him to the world he sees all around, often in vivid form. Beauty emerges from the isolated landscape, transforming the snow and the trees into an imaginative and magical sense of the Christmas proclamation. For me, this draws me back to A Charlie Brown Christmas and the way their willingness to let the text simply wash over them transforms Charlie Brown’s percpection and brings the whole group together, turning a small, withering tree carrying Charlie Brown’s hopes and burdens into a vibrant and powerful picture of community.
To end, this quote from Christmas in the Adirondacks I think captures this beautifully:
“Thus were they seated, ready to begin the repast ; but the plates remained untouched, and the happy noises which had to
that moment filled the cabin ceased ; for the Angel of Silence,
with noiseless step, had suddenly entered the room. There’s a
silence of grief, there’s a silence of hatred, there’s a silence of
dread ; of these, men may speak, and these they can describe.
But the silence of our happiness, who can describe that ? When
the heart is full, when the long longing is suddenly met, when
love gives to love abundantly, when the soul lacketh nothing
and is content, then language is useless, and the Angel of
Silence becomes our only adequate interpreter. A humble table,
surely, and humble folk around it ; but not in the houses of the
rich or the palaces of kings does gratitude find her only home,
but in more lowly abodes and with lowly folk ay, and often
at the scant table, too, she sitteth a perpetual guest. Was it
memory ? Did the Trapper at that brief moment visit his absent
friend ? Did Wild Bill recall his wayward past ? Were the
thoughts of the woman busy with sweet scenes of earlier days ?
And did memory, by thus reminding them of the absent and
the past, of the sweet things that had been and were, stir within their hearts thoughts of Him from whom all gifts descend, and of His blessed Son, in whose honor the day was named ?
O Memory ! thou tuneful bell that ringeth on forever, friend
at our feasts, and friend, too, let us call thee, at our burial,
what music can equal thine ? For in thy mystic globe all tunes
abide, the birthday note for kings, the marriage peal, the
funeral knell, the gleeful jingle of merry mirth, and those sweet chimes that float our thoughts, like fragrant ships upon a fragrant sea, toward heaven, all are thine ! Ring on, thou tune
ful bell ; ring on, while these glad ears may drink thy melody ;
and when thy chimes are heard by me no more, ring loud and
clear above my grave that peal which echoes to the heavens,
and tells the world of immortality, that they who come to
mourn may check their tears and say,” Why do we weep ? He