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On Faith: Christmas lessons from Charlie Brown

Last evening, Dec. 20, was the second showing for this Christmas season of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on mainstream television. It's a holiday tradition in America that the classic holiday cartoon is run twice during December on one of the corporate television networks.

We all probably have memories of when we watched it for the first time. The theme of this classic cartoon is that Charlie Brown is frustrated and depressed over the commercialization of the holiday of Christmas, and he struggles to know what Christmas is really all about.

In a scene that still moves the heart today, Linus tells Charlie Brown what Christmas is really all about by reading the biblical story of the birth of Jesus. Specifically, he reads from the Gospel of St. Luke 2:8-14.

Inspired by being reminded that the celebration of Christmas is due to the birth of the savior, Jesus Christ, the cartoon cast ends the show by singing together the hymn "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

Whenever I watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas," I am always struck by something which I think is tragically ironic: we love the theme of the cartoon, yet our lives often don't reflect it. The theme of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is to point out how commercialized, materialistic and secular Christmas has become in American society at that time (1965).

The authors of the cartoon saw that American society was consumed with focus on Christmas gifts, Christmas shopping and Christmas parties, but was forgetting why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.

Whenever I watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" now, I am struck by the irony of the fact that so many people, even today, absolutely cherish "A Charlie Brown Christmas," but in spite of that, our society now has commercialized Christmas more than ever. Christmas advertisements started playing on TV in late October.

It is common practice for people to celebrate the "spirit of the season" through December, and end it on the day after Christmas (which, ironically, is also the day that many, many people return Christmas presents that don't work, that they didn't like or that don't fit).

We know, of course, that the Christmas holiday only exists because God became man in Jesus Christ and was born in Bethlehem. Without Jesus' saving birth, there would be no Christmas. Yet, ask yourself: When was the last time that I saw a Christmas light display at a home or in a store that actually referred to the reason for Christmas?

We see plenty of snowmen and reindeer, as well as the increasingly popular blow-up characters from movies or pop culture. But ask yourself: How often do you see a nativity scene as a yard decoration?

Because of this, viewing "A Charlie Brown Christmas" often reminds me of the importance for us Christians to live our faith in a real way that is countercultural, and that is a witness to the society around us. My friends, whether our society likes it or not, the Christmas holiday is a Christian holiday.

There's a reason that the name "Christ" makes up most of the word of "Christmas." This Christmas season, as we joyfully celebrate with family and friends, let's make sure to remember what the reason for our celebration is: the birthday of our savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Let us thank God with prayer and praise that he has come to our world in order to save us. May God bless you and your family this Christmas and always! Merry Christmas!

Steven LaFlamme is pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church, Silver Bay, and Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Two Harbors.