Last Sunday, the kids at our church performed “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It’s an annual tradition at Bethesda Church that dates back 20 years.
It’s always one of the highlights of my year.
As it happened, the boy who played Charlie Brown is the son of our original Charlie Brown.
Three of my grandchildren appeared in the performance, too.
Harper, the oldest, played Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister. Hadley was Frieda, she of the naturally curly hair. Hudson was Schroeder, the pianist.
The play, of course, is based on Charles Schulz’s animated TV classic, which first appeared in December 1965.
That original Christmas special was filmed on a budget of less that $100,000, and it featured a gentle script, the voices of unknown child actors and a jazz score by Vince Guaraldi. Bewildered television executives expected it to bomb.
Instead, it became a holiday standard.
Given that it’s been 50 years since that first airing, it’s hard for me to say with absolute certainty, but I’m reasonably sure my sister and I watched that initial broadcast of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” together.
We’d moved from southwestern Ohio to Campbellsville, where my dad had taken a job with the Baptist college there.
We lived in an apartment on the second floor of an old hotel on Main Street that had been converted into a men’s dormitory.
My dad had recently bought our family’s first color TV, which was a novelty in 1965.
I would have been 9. My sister, Cathi, would have been 3.
All four of our grandparents were alive and vibrant. Our parents were in their 30s.
And now, Cathi and I are grandparents. Neither of us has lived in Campbellsville for more than 40 years. Our grandparents and parents are dead. The hotel where we lived has long since been demolished.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” remains, though.
Across the land, in TV reruns and from church stages, Schroeder tickles jazz from the keyboard of his piano. Snoopy dances with abandon. Linus shares the Christmas story from Luke’s gospel. Charlie Brown’s humble tree bends to the ground.
When my older three grandkids were toddlers, I bought them a book version of the story.
It’s one of those books that allows an adult to read aloud and record the narration. Later, as kids flip the pages, they can hear your voice telling the story.
Just a few weeks, ago, my son texted me a photo of Harper, 8, sitting on the sofa with her two youngest siblings, Hagan, 4, and Harry, 2.
Harper was holding the book open for the little ones. Those two weren’t even born when I made the recording, yet they sat listening to me narrate “A Charlie Brown Christmas” before I had any idea they’d ever exist.
I wish I knew what all this means. Perhaps it can’t be fully known.
Christmas is when we rejoice and sing carols and exchange presents and renew friendships and drink eggnog and hug our kids.
But it’s also when we remember. It’s when we mourn time lost and time still to come.
Memories are part of the rejoicing. And they’re part of the grieving.
Last week, as I watched my grandkids dance around our church’s stage to the strains of Guaraldi’s delightful, familiar music, my heart nearly burst with joy.
And it nearly burst with loss.
I thought of my sister and me watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” half a century ago, two innocent kids lying on the floor of a converted hotel, agog with the wonder of a color TV, captivated by a Christmas cartoon, secure in a cocoon of love.
I thought of my mom and my dad and my grandparents.
I thought about how kids always grow up, like all generations through the eons. Someday this year’s Charlie Brown will be the man his dad has somehow become in the past 20 years, and his dad will be old.
Someday soon my grandchildren will be grandparents. And I, like my grandparents before me and their grandparents before them, will have become barely a memory.
I hope my grandchildren’s grandchildren will bring them as much joy as mine have brought me.
I hope that, some future Christmas fleeting years from now, my grandkids might still hear — from an old book or simply in their minds — my voice reading “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” When they do, I hope they’ll smile.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
8 p.m. Dec. 22, WTVQ-TV Ch. 36-1 (TWC Ch. 10)