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Things Only Adults Notice In A Charlie Brown Christmas

Any list of the most important, most beloved, and most timeless holiday specials ever made would have to include A Charlie Brown Christmas. Produced in 1965 and written by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz himself, the special marked the first time the Peanuts gang were allowed to tell an animated story, and it followed Charlie Brown as he attempted to find joy in a Christmas season that just wasn't working for him. 

A Charlie Brown Christmas has remained a holiday staple ever since, as beloved for its animation style and humor as it is for its touching meditation on the true meaning of Christmas. It airs on television every year, and it remains an essential part of the season for many families, which means that while children are still discovering it for the first time, some adults out there have seen it many, many times. If you're among the adults in the room who know A Charlie Brown Christmas by heart, here are a few things you might've noticed about this seasonal classic that younger viewers totally miss.

Schroeder's magic piano

One of the most easily recognizable members of the Peanuts gang is Schroeder, because he's never far from his trusty piano. Schroeder is constantly practicing on his miniaturized keyboard, playing everything from jazz to holiday classics to works by his favorite composer, Beethoven.

Schroeder gets in quite a bit of playing time during A Charlie Brown Christmas, and if you're listening closely, you'll find that he not only seems to be playing different songs but also different instruments. Yes, it's a toy piano that usually sounds like a rich, full-scale model, but we can suspend our disbelief for that. What makes a little less sense is what happens when Lucy requests "Jingle Bells." Schroeder plays several different versions of the classic tune, including one that makes his piano sound like a church organ. Then, when he gets frustrated with Lucy's demands, he's able to make his toy piano sound like ... well, a toy piano, and not a regular piano. How does he do it? Is there a synthesizer wedged in there that we don't know about, or is Schroeder just that good?

Linus' magic blanket

Just as Pig-Pen is perpetually surrounded by dust clouds or Schroeder is almost always next to his trusty piano, Linus is always seen carrying his trusty blue blanket. He's got it with him out in the snow, inside during rehearsals for the Christmas play, and at one point, he even refuses to part with it to put on a costume. He's so attached to the thing that he promises he'll "make it into a sport coat" when he grows up so he won't have to get rid of it. 

Perhaps one reason why Linus doesn't want to let go of his blanket is because the thing seems to be magic. It endures a dog tugging on it without tearing or puncturing, gets dragged through the snow all day without getting soggy, and even serves as a remarkably accurate slingshot when he needs it to. Then, when Lucy tries to get him to put it down so he can dress up like a shepherd, Linus reveals that the blanket can also shapeshift, forming a perfect headdress complete with a band in the middle the moment he puts it on his head. That's quite a blanket.

What is the Christmas play?

Much of the action of A Charlie Brown Christmas unfolds at the local auditorium, where the Peanuts gang is getting ready to put on a Christmas play. Charlie Brown is roped into the production when he tells Lucy about his holiday depression, and she feels it will be a way for him to get involved and get some holiday spirit. Charlie Brown eagerly leaps into his role as director of the play, but he can't seem to get anyone to listen to him. 

Perhaps more importantly, though, no one quite seems to know exactly what play they're putting on. At one point, Lucy hands out scripts to various kids for roles like "innkeeper" and "shepherd," which would suggest a Nativity play, but then she also asks Snoopy if he can play a penguin. To make things more complicated, Schroeder keeps trying to score the play with upbeat jazz, and at one point, Lucy makes reference to the play having a "Christmas queen" in the form of herself. So, is it a hybrid Nativity play with a bunch of other holiday elements thrown in? Is it a variety show? Does anyone actually know? The play doesn't get finished on-screen, so we can only hope they got it together.

Where are the adults in A Charlie Brown Christmas?

A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first-ever Peanuts special, which means that many hallmarks of the franchise's animated future were not yet present. One of these, which would make quite an impression in later specials, is the idea that in the Peanuts world, all adults appear off-screen and have voices that sound like gibberish. 

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, there simply are no adults, but it's a bit stranger than that. It's not just that the adults aren't around. It's that the kids never even reference any adults who might exist in their lives, something that does happen in later specials. It's easy to assume in most scenes that the parents just happen to be at work while the kids are going about their day, but what about the auditorium? Is someone supervising this Christmas play project? Who gave them the keys? Then there's the tree lot. Was no one else shopping that night? Did Charlie Brown just take the tree? One of Peanuts' biggest themes is the way kids organize themselves into their own microcosm of society when adults are away, but even so, it's Christmas. Where are all their families?

Who's playing percussion?

A Charlie Brown Christmas famously features a jazz soundtrack from the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and its score has gone on to become one of the most enduring sounds of Christmas. The score is also worked directly into the plot of the show at one point, as the gang is shown playing the song "Linus and Lucy" onstage at the auditorium. Even after they're asked to stop, when Charlie Brown asks Schroeder later to set the mood for the scene they're rehearsing, Schroeder plays the same song again. 

What's interesting about the way the musical moment plays out, though, is what makes up the little band supposedly playing the song. You've got Schroeder on piano, which makes sense, and Pigpen on upright bass, which also makes sense. But the Vince Guaraldi Trio is composed of piano, bass, and drums, which is why it's confusing to see Snoopy playing what's either a guitar or just another bass. If the kids are supposed to be playing the song in the scene, where are the drums coming from?

Aluminum outdoor trees?

When the Christmas play rehearsals don't seem to be working, Charlie Brown suggests that perhaps what they need to pick things up is a Christmas tree. Lucy agrees and says that Charlie Brown should get a big aluminum tree to really play up the modern, commercial Christmas feeling of it all. Charlie Brown and Linus then head to the tree lot, where they ultimately decide to take the scrawny real tree that remains one of the most famous parts of the show. 

The whole point of the scene is that Charlie Brown picks this little twig of a tree, which mirrors his own thin feelings about the season at the time, but looking around at the rest of the lot, things start to look a little strange. It's arranged very much like a traditional Christmas tree lot, but as Linus and Charlie Brown look around, it becomes clear that the tiny tree they pick is the only real tree here. The rest are aluminum, and we know that because they sound metallic when Charlie Brown knocks on them. 

So, setting aside the lack of real trees for a moment, let's ask the obvious question: Who is selling aluminum trees in a place where it's clearly been snowing for a while? Snow is wet, and the trees are delicate metal. That wouldn't make for a very happy Christmas.

The tree transformation

When Charlie Brown brings the tiny tree back from the lot and shows it to his friends, they not only call him names, but they start to full-on laugh at him. But after Linus makes his stirring speech, quoting scripture to emphasize the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown decides to take the tree home. He's convinced that if he can just decorate the tree right, he can convince everyone that they were wrong to make fun of it. 

However, Charlie Brown gives up after the tree nearly breaks in half from the weight of just one ornament, but when the other kids come along, they try harder. Linus wraps his blanket around the base, and the kids use all the decorations from Snoopy's doghouse to fill out the rest of the tree. "Fill out" is the key phrase there, because by the time the kids are done decorating with all the lights and baubles, the tree looks like it's grown about a dozen extra branches and a whole bunch of extra needles. It looks like a completely different tree, which means those decorations are way more effective when they're not on the doghouse.

The power of music in A Charlie Brown Christmas

Much of the plot of A Charlie Brown Christmas revolves around the supposed Christmas play the kids are preparing to put on. Charlie Brown is roped into it as a means of raising his Christmas spirit, and he gets the tree because it's for the play. Even the music that so defines the special becomes a part of the play at one point. Sadly, though, the special ends before we can actually see the play performed. Once Linus has reminded everyone what Christmas is all about, the kids are more interested in spreading cheer than they are in rehearsing, apparently. 

However, even though it's key to the story, we're puzzled why these particular kids are doing a play at all. Schroeder is a talented piano player, Pig-Pen plays a double bass, and all the kids have been dancing together long enough that they each have their own signature moves. At the end of the special, they also prove they can sing with a stirring performance of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." So perhaps it would be a better idea if these kids put on a Christmas concert.

Snoopy's Christmas lights

The problem that kickstarts A Charlie Brown Christmas is the title character's own lack of satisfaction with the holiday. He tells Linus, "Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy," and he repeatedly complains that the holiday has grown too commercial for his taste. This reaches a new level of disgust when he sees Snoopy putting up a bunch of decorations on his doghouse and realizes the beagle is decking his halls for a Christmas light contest that promises a cash prize. 

By the end of the special, we learn that Snoopy not only entered the contest, but he managed to win first place. 

Now, to be clear, Snoopy's decorated doghouse is very charming. He put up lights all around the roof, arranged a couple of spotlights, hung a festive chain or two, and even topped it all off with a star. There's nothing wrong with his decoration, but it does amount to little more than a strand of lights and a couple of baubles hanging on a doghouse. Were there no full-sized houses decorated well enough to compete with him? Is Christmas spirit really in such short supply that Snoopy could out-decorate the humans in town? If so, maybe Charlie Brown is right to be so depressed.