I remember Christmas in my hometown. The streets were adorned with joy. There was a hope, an intrinsic belief that the world could be a better place. I could feel it, even as a little girl. Meandering down the streets, people wore wool coats, hats and scarves, and their breath was like smoke curling into the magical air as they were busy in thought, rushing from store to store. Last-minute gifts were bought with an urgency. A certain finality, that no one or no thing would be forgotten or by happenstance missed on the long wish list to be done. Christmas Eve was a rush to peace. It was a childhood magic. The adults always searched for something a little different, something elusive, something I grew to understand.
One Christmas Eve, in the mid afternoon, my dad said, “Come on, let’s go uptown.” My dad gave me the love of books. We both walked around immersed in stories. We would leave where we were for some place else, a place only found on the written pages in which we would find ourselves. So on this very busy day, he said to me, “Let’s go to the newsstand.” It was tucked between stores, next to the Shelby Café, where the delicious smell of homemade rolls and fried chicken slowly lingered in the winter air, right across from Belk Department Store, and the Court Square not to far away. On this day, the square’s beautifully adorned large trees were graced in twinkling white lights. The newsstand was one of my favorite places. It smelled like freshly printed newspapers. They were stacked at the window, many from places I had never been. Candy was lined up and displayed underneath the check out counter near the big windows, overlooking the streets, I knew so very well. My dad liked historical fiction or books related to current events. I liked to buy comic books. My favorites were Archie and the Gang and Peanuts. My dad and I would leave the newsstand with new books, that carried the smell home with us, the one that enticed us to open the cover and read. That Christmas Eve, we walked into the the bustling streets of my hometown. We shared a secret we both so loved. We could go home and cozy up, and literally go somewhere else. It was not that we desired to escape the most magical night of the year, but we knew, in all the excitement, if we could not fall asleep, we could reach for a book. Without fail, that is how my parents found me that Christmas Eve, sound asleep with Peanuts still in my hand.
In 1965, the Charlie Brown Christmas was aired on TV for the first time. I watched it, but I was somewhat young to really grasp it. In 1967, I was awed by it. That same year, my mom was walking around with a book in hand, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.” She too, loved to read, but she had little time for it. But in this particular year, she made time to turn the pages. So did many of her friends as well as over 15 million readers as of our current date. The book was a guide to navigate and solve. problems in our lives. Basically, the book said we exist in one of four ways:
“I’m Not OK, You’re OK
I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK
I’m OK, You’re Not OK
I’m OK, You’re OK”
It emphasizes that so much about how we feel begins in childhood. If you watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” so much of this is a part of the narrative. Charlie Brown was about relationships and his friends’ relationships to the world. The world, in faith, begs of us to yearn for that place where we are all okay…Heaven on Earth.
Charle Brown worked a quiet magic. Unlike what we watch today, Charlie Brown required us to contemplate. The characters always pondered bigger questions, and made children and adults think about them. The conversations were somewhat open ended, we were forced to draw on our conclusions.
I noticed this year that Christmas tree lots were empty and not very busy. I thought about the colorful, aluminum Christmas trees in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Charlie Brown and Linus visit a Christmas tree lot lined with fake, pink trees, and find one fragile, lonely, small tree. Linus said to Charlie Brown, “Gee, do they still make wooden trees?” This notion was ingrained in my soul from childhood. The idea that fighting commercialism could begin by putting fresh cut trees in our living rooms and adorning them with lights and treasured ornaments. A Christmas tree had a smell, a feel. It was imperfect, and yet, in love, made exquisite. We transformed, year after year, ordinary trees into breathtaking. I thought this year for a moment, that maybe we had lost this war against commercialism. This war on a fake identity we have created with stuff and more stuff. There is worthiness for the good fight for traditions that lead us to the true meaning of Christmas.
The real meaning of Christmas unfolded for me year in and year out with Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Snoopy, maybe for me and maybe for you…as the Christmastime memory of the stage lights dimming and Linus begins and everyone listens…
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not:”
Linus continues, “for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”
Linus ends the Bible story…”That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
We live in a world of diversity. People believe different things. But in my heart of hearts, I still believe in “On earth peace, good will towards men.” According to the book my mother and all of her friends were reading in 1967, they would describe us today, as “I’m OK, You’re Not OK.” “I’m Not Okay, You’re Okay.” Or the worst case scenario, “I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay.” My wish for you as you enjoy the season, is to contemplate the reason. Watch in slow motion the true meaning of Christmas, it is all around us. We all are living a different story, different joys, different heartbreaks.
Charlie Brown says to Linus, “This little green one here seems to need a home.”
Linus answers, “I don’t know, Charlie Brown. Remember what Lucy said? This doesn’t seem to fit the modern spirit.”
Charlie Brown thinks and replies, “I don’t care. We’ll decorate it and it’ll be just right for our play. Besides, I think it needs me.”
We really need each other. There is nothing more important. Growing up in my hometown, I felt immense love, and not just at Christmas. So on this Christmas Day and into the New Year, my prayer, my wish is this:
“I’m OK, You’re OK.”
Peace to you and yours and Merry Christmas.