This review was written by a friend of mine, though I do love A Charlie Brown Christmas in all its commercial glory.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, playing ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ on my tiny outdated MP3 player for the first time. It was April, strangely enough, but being stuck in the closest thing to accidental exile you can experience in the country of your own birth, I pretended that the torrential Colombian rain was just the first winter snow working out its flashy summer body and, albeit still a little apprehensively, clicked “Play”. I was told this album was supposed to change everything. It was supposed to be the Christmas album to end all Christmas albums. “It’s a holiday, if not an era,” I heard it described, “captured in music.” That’s a bit much, I thought. And my first listen did nothing to change that impression. It’s just… low-key jazz – what’s so special about that?
Objectively, nothing. But during my first American Christmas, the fog began to clear. As I came to realize, this album is no mere musical creation, but a social artifact that can only be understood within the context of the perplexingly particular American holiday experience. Fascinated, then, by the behaviors I observed in my jolly subjects, I spent season after season drawing from my findings a conclusion about what makes ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ such a beloved album. Here are my findings:
Sometime in the recent past, the word “capitalism” achieved the special feat of emerging in the national vocabulary not just as the nickname for the national sport, but as a negatively-charged buzzword that, more than any other, came to define American ambivalence. Sure, slacktivists will denounce the nation’s gross economic inequalities, but they’ll feed into the system with their holiday shopping excursions just the same.
It is no coincidence that this lexical transition happened alongside the advent of contemporary nostalgia. Indeed, they follow quite the same pattern. Inexplicably, even some of the most ultramodern youth will readily spout out that they were “born in the wrong generation” and express an affinity for the “retro,” denouncing “the way the world is going.” And yet – and I say this as a member of that generation – there’s hardly any force that will make us give up our gadgets.
In the mainstream, the former sentiment is thought of as nostalgia. And sure, some of that element may be at play, but our more comically oblivious halves live not quite in nostalgia but in abject denial. Because while nostalgia laments a time gone by and wishes, to some extent, for its return, denial acts as if the time had never gone. Listening to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ sipping on warm cider while sitting before a fireplace, basking in the calm and cozy Christmas spirit – there’s something artificial about it that we blissfully choose not to acknowledge. It’s like appreciating a Norman Rockwell painting while sipping on Coca-Cola and pretending that traditional American family values haven’t fallen out of fashion. It’s not denial because we can’t bring these realities back, but because, in reality, we don’t want to – it’s the denial of our own ambivalence. See, joy and cheer should be a part of who we are, not just “the Christmas spirit,” another American simulation with which we can entertain ourselves slipping into and, when the Pumpkin Spice Lattes are sold out, emerging from with the same attitudes we had before. We so enjoy denouncing our oftentimes selfish, materialistic institutions. But deep down, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The whole ordeal is summed up neatly in our treatment of holiday music like ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’ Cheer is all well and good, just as is this album – but would we ever listen to cozy jazz music outside of the holiday season? Do we keep the positive attitudes of the season throughout the year? Usually, no. But how convenient for us: it means we can excitedly await the end of another year, another opportunity to collectively lament how these times have gone.