I was a big fan of the Peanuts comic strip as a kid growing up. Who am I kidding…I remain a fan to this day.
That’s why I was so anxious to see the first Peanuts TV broadcast. I was in the Air Force and made sure I got myself in front of a television that night back in 1965. I could not imagine how the comic strip could possibly translate to TV. But it did. And beautifully, I thought.
I especially liked the part where Linus goes out onto the stage all-alone and recites the Christmas narrative from the Bible.
“And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them ... and they were sore afraid ... Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy ... For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savoir, which is Christ the Lord ... Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Linus’s point is that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and what that birth meant. It’s not about toys, decorations, or days off.
Twenty-eight years later, I went looking for that Bible passage, because I wanted to write a Christmas story for the Cape May County Herald. I had difficulty finding the words Linus spoke in that TV show.
You see, Mark and John start their gospels when Jesus is a grown man, and Matthew’s story of the birth doesn’t even mention shepherds. Only Luke tells that story, and it certainly wasn’t the way Linus had told it.
When I read Luke, his gospel said, “…But the angel said, don’t be afraid. I’m here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Savior was born...Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased.’ And there were shepherds in the same district ... and they feared exceedingly.”
That just doesn’t have the “pizazz” of Linus’s interpretation. It took me a while to find out why. I’m Catholic, and the Catholic or the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible just doesn’t have the same verbal brilliance…if you will…as the King James version. In fact, a Catholic writer once advised me to “Read the Catholic Bible for its thoroughness; read the King James version for its literature.”
Well, I did write that Christmas column for the Herald, and then, several years later, I saw Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts, being interviewed on TV. Schultz explained to the interviewer that he had agreed to write the teleplay for the show only if those lines from Luke’s Gospel were included. Schultz had so much influence, that the network executives reluctantly agreed. Even back in the 1960s, TV moguls weren’t exactly pro-Christian.
I subsequently sent a copy of my story to Schultz. He wrote back and thanked me, saying that it was much more difficult to write the TV show than he had thought it would be. He also said that he could not comprehend the success of the show.
“I think it may have been the music,” Schultz wrote to me.
I think he was understating the influence of two writers: Himself and Luke.