It is hard to believe this is the 50th year of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I am sure all of us have fond memories of the television classic, and I am certainly one who does. I grew up in the late 1960’s when you did not have cable showing a favorite TV show over and over again. This was one of the shows we looked forward to beginning around Halloween, when “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” would air. Once this program ended, we knew we had “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” just around the corner and then “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was not far away. My sister and I would sit on the floor with a bowl of popcorn and hot chocolate and we were glued to the screen for the next 30 minutes.
My dad was a big peanuts fan and we looked forward to seeing Charlie Brown and the gang in the funny papers, as my dad called the comics. I did not know who Charles Schulz was at that time, but as I got older, I began to learn about the talented man and his family. I found out he had a wife and children, including Jill, a girl who was not much older than myself. When I was asked to become a Snoopy/Peanuts ambassador last month, I was already sold on the Peanuts franchise. I had previously reviewed some of the Snoopy items in my review, “Cowabunga, Books About Snoopy Are Fun” and the amazing Lionel Peanuts Christmas Train in my review, “Start A Family Tradition With The Lionel Peanuts Christmas Train Set.”
Recently, the other ambassadors and myself had the opportunity to have a telephone interview with Jill Schulz, the daughter of Charles Schulz. Jill is the youngest of Charles M. Schulz’s five children, and she was gracious enough to share her personal memories of her Dad; the family Christmas traditions that she shared with her siblings Meredith, Amy, Monte, and Craig; and, of course, the way that A Charlie Brown Christmas has touched her life and the lives of millions of fans across the globe. Here are some of the questions asked of Jill:
What was it like to celebrate Christmas in the Schulz family?
“I always had great memories of it, but to us, that’s just how our Christmas was.” “Back then, there was not as much merchandise, publicity, worldwide status for Peanuts and Snoopy.” “We had a pretty typical Christmas, except that we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve. Typically, we’d have neighborhood friends and kids coming over and my mom cooked a great big dinner. Then we’d wait for Santa Claus, I’d always sneak back down and open a window because I thought there was no way he could fit down the chimney.”
“In the morning, we’d get a special present. One year I got a puppy, but it was a little disconcerting because I thought I was getting an Old English Sheepdog like the one from Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, but my puppy was not furry and did not have a tail.”
“Once the TV show came out, that became a tradition: both Christmas and Halloween, they became something we’d gather around TV to watch. But to me, it just seemed like a normal family Christmas.”
Was there anything in the special that was similar to your childhood?
“There are elements that are supposed to come from my family. Like Lucy’s crabbiness came from Meredith. I’m told that Linus has a blanket because I always had a blanket.” But I can’t say there’s anything specific in the special.” “Dad was active in Sunday school when we were much younger, he taught there on Sundays for many years. So the Linus speech was something very important to him.” “Lee Mendelson tells the story of meeting with the top guys at CBS—they said they loved the special, ‘But you need to take the Linus’ speech out.’ When Lee told Dad that he said, ‘Tell them to just forget it then.’ Now it’s become the most iconic part of the entire TV special. It’s one of my favorite parts because I know how important it was to my father.”
What is Christmas like for your family today?
“After those big Christmases as a kid, I had to get adjusted to having Christmases with just my husband and my two kids. It felt so small. I tried to do the same traditions, watch the special, do the presents.” For a while would go to Utah with my sister Amy. Amy and Monte are more sentimental about the past. She has nine kids, she tried to and successfully created the same kind of big family meal, friends coming over. It was great to do that for a while.”
“Now we invite good friends and go to Utah to go skiing, have snow, make snowmen, do all of those traditional Christmas things we have heard of, even though we live in California.”
“One tradition I did not keep: My parents always put an orange in Christmas stockings, I switched that to chocolate.”
Wondering if any other parts of your life showed up in the comics or in your dad’s shows?
One of my favorite things that showed up in the strip and in a Broadway show was when my brother Craig was in high school, he had to do an art sculpture made from a coat hanger. He came home 2 days later with his grade, and it was a C. My dad said, ‘How can you grade a coat hanger sculpture?’ That became a funny scene in the show and the strip.”
“My sister Amy always talked too loud, so she had some Lucy qualities. One time she was told to be quiet, and she started buttering toast, and looked up and said, ‘Am I buttering too loud?’ ” “I said, ‘If you pray with your hands upside down, you’ll get the opposite of what you pray for.’ ”
What’s your earliest memory of Camp Snoopy?
“I remember when it first opened and walking around thinking it was like a theme park in miniature. And I remember thinking that these are rides I’m not afraid to go on! After my kids were born (son 12, daughter 16), I had so much fun being able to take them on rides and seeing Snoopy and introducing them to Where do you see the franchise in 10 years? “We’d like to see it grow, to continue the legacy of my dad and keep the characters out there. But there’s a careful line between keeping the integrity of my dad’s characters and creating enough new material to keep it fresh for new generations.”
Who’s your favorite Peanuts character and why?
“My absolute favorite is Snoopy because I like his imagination and his free spirit, how he imagines whatever he wants to be. I had a pretend friend as a kid that everyone teased me about. And because he’s a dog and I love rescue animals. Then it would be Linus, because I like how calm he remains, how philosophical he is.”
Just to get you in the mood, here is a little clip from “The Meaning of Christmas.”
And in case you need further encouragement to get in the spirit of celebrating 50 years of A Charlie Brown Christmas, one USA reader will win this super sweet and incredibly soft Snoopy plush and the book, “Be Joyful” by Charles M. Schulz.
What is your favorite part of A Charlie Brown Christmas?