Life Lessons From “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”


November of 2017 marks the 44th anniversary of the release of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” I watched it every year during my childhood. These days, in my “adult childhood,” I still make it a point to watch it every November.

There are moments in “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” that are particularly noteworthy. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes playful, these moments, long before I was aware of their impact, helped me to pay attention to the world and its nuances. Here are some of the moments I have in mind:

CB 1

SNOOPY’S BATTLE WITH THE ORNERY LAWN CHAIR—Tapping into the frustration that most of us have experienced with uncooperative folding lawn furniture, Snoopy’s passionate fight with the anthropomorphic chair ranks as one of the great moments in all of animation. I think about that scene whenever I have difficulty opening up the folding chairs at church, which is often. It is a slapstick lesson in fortitude, a ridiculous but cautionary moment that makes a case for a raw “get-r-done” kind of gusto.

CB 2

FRANKLIN’S UNIQUE GREETING WHEN ENTERING CHARLIE BROWN’S HOUSE—When Peppermint Patty and Marcie come through the door, they greet Charlie Brown with simple hellos. But when Franklin, the only African American boy in the story, comes into the house, he and Charlie Brown exchange a pronounced and audible slap of hands. In light of the fact that this was 1973, such a greeting was a slap heard round the world—a moment of communicational intimacy that signaled the continuing development of a new age in race relations, even in the world of animation.

CB 3

SNOOPY’S PANICKED EXPRESSION WHEN HEARING THE INVITATION TO PRAY OVER DINNER—Peppermint Patty calls for someone to pray over the Thanksgiving meal. Snoopy, in a split-second response, looks suddenly panicked, as though he’s afraid that someone might look to him for the blessing. That sudden look of canine consternation makes me laugh every year because of its creative illumination of a very common spiritual reluctance. “Please, God, don’t let anyone ask me to pray out loud!”

CB 4

SNOOPY’S TOASTED EAR—While preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, Woodstock the bird accidentally puts Snoopy’s ear in the toaster, then butters it. No dinner, I suppose, is complete without a spoonful of personal sacrifice and a dash of vulnerability.

CB 5

WOODSTOCK’S FONDNESS FOR POULTRY—It hit me in late elementary school that, in the closing scene, when Snoopy and Woodstock sit down for a turkey dinner, Woodstock is actually committing a form of avian cannibalism before my very eyes. I wonder if the turkey was accompanied by some fava beans and a nice chianti.

CB 6

AN ECLECTIC THANKSGIVING MEAL—The actual meal that Charlie Brown serves to his friends includes jellybeans, pretzels, popcorn, and toast, reminding everyone that the beauty of the feast is always in the eye of the (hungry) beholder.

CB 7

LINUS’ PRAYER—When Linus quotes the prayer that was prayed by Elder William Brewster at the first Thanksgiving meal, it is the only moment in the entire animation that his security blanket is not visible. What a winsomely subtle way of making the point that, when Linus experiences the security of prayer, he no longer needs the blanket.

CB 8

THE SPONTANEOUS REJOICING—When the children receive word that they are all invited to Charlie Brown’s grandmother’s house for a real Thanksgiving dinner, they erupt with a joyful fervency normally reserved for Steelers games and Springsteen concerts. Their child-like exuberance awakens within me the desire to do everything I can to make the church into the kind of place that always—always—invites children to the table.

CB 9

THE REALISTIC SINGING—In the car, when the children sing “Over the River and Through the Woods,” they are neither unified in their tempo nor disciplined about their tonality—meaning that they sounded exactly like every group of singing children that I have ever heard (except for the Jackson 5 and that time that the Brady Bunch kids became the Silver Platters). Their joyful and spirited singing reminds me of how grateful I am that music has occupied a significant place in my life. I want it to occupy such a place in many lives.

CB 10

THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE MOVEMENT TO SUBURBIA—“There’s only one problem with that song,” Charlie Brown says about the bucolic “Over the River and Through the Woods” as the children sing the song together.

“What’s that, Charlie Brown?”

“My grandmother lives in a condominium!”

By uttering those six words, Charlie Brown concludes the production with a bold and prophetic acknowledgement of the frightening implications of suburban sprawl, generational compartmentalization, and architectural homogeneity. It is a subtle but appropriate warning to a culture that frequently runs the risk of forgetting that rivers, woods, and grandmothers are never to be taken for granted.

If you watch “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” this year, pay attention. It offers some wonderfully whimsical and insightful moments, even after 44 years.





13 Reasons Why


At the recommendation of a friend who knows me well, I made the time recently to watch the first season of the Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why” (based on the 2007 novel of the same title). It is a hard-hitting and sobering treatment of a variety of gut-wrenching issues faced by young people (and older people) in modern times: suicide; drug and alcohol abuse; bullying; body-shaming; the complexity of social media; sexual pressure and assault; fiercely-guarded cliques; disappointing friendships; heartbreaking family dynamics; betrayal. At its essence, the show tells the story of a young, vibrant, and broken soul named Hannah Baker and the “13 reasons why” she chooses to end her life.

There is considerable debate around “13 Reasons Why.” Some critics and counselors believe that it romanticizes suicide and nurtures the dangerous idea that suicide can be justified by a set of clearly articulated reasons. Other critics and counselors believe that, if it is experienced in the context of healthy community, the show can be a powerful doorway into important and life-saving conversations about matters too frequently ignored. This debate, I think, is worth having but cannot be resolved here.

So, why am I writing about “13 Reasons Why”? To tell you the truth, I am not sure. I think it has something to do with the tears that I shed toward the end of the final episode. Tears over Hannah’s loneliness, isolation, and heartbreaking decisions.  Tears over how cruel people can be to one another. Tears over what I would imagine is an all-too-realistic depiction of some of the dynamics of high school life.

My experience with “13 Reasons Why” made me want to listen more attentively to the people around me so as not to miss their joy and their pain. It made me want to repent of all the different ways in which I have been guilty of bullying or ostracizing—through my fierce arguments or my insensitive words or my harmfully-wielded opinions or my posture of defensiveness. Most of all, it made me want to value young people even more deeply and to invest more of myself in the journeys that they are navigating.

If you ever consider the possibility of watching “13 Reasons Why,” please know that it is not for those who prefer their television shows to be thoroughly sanitized. It does not look away from the ugly circumstances that many people face, including suicide (meaning that potential viewers need to be aware of the starkness of the show and the possible emotional triggers that it may present).  There are plot contrivances that sometimes hinder the storytelling and sub-narratives that occasionally strain the viewer’s credulity. But, by the end of season 1, I felt as though I had been ushered into an important story, one that illuminates both the sweet delight and the crushing despair that might reside within the heart of the person standing right next to us.

Clay, Hannah’s friend, gives expression to the new kind of community that he hopes Hannah’s death will inspire: “It has to get better,” Clay says. “The way we treat each other and look out for each other, it has to get better somehow.”

Indeed. It has to.