All month, we've been pitting Christmas classics against each other to determine which is more Christmas-y. Today, it's two classic animated TV specials: Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! versus A Charlie Brown Christmas.
A Charlie Brown Christmas, in which Charlie Brown's typical malaise leads him to learn the true meaning of the holiday, premiered in 1965. A year later, we got the TV adaptation of Dr. Seuss' book about a mean, green thing trying to take Christmas away from the happy Whos of Whoville.
A Charlie Brown Christmas will be defended by Esther and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! will be defended by Joe.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Let me start by saying that amid all the Vince Guaraldi tunes and Snoopy bits, this movie is actually surprisingly religious when you really think about it. If we're talking about just how Christmas-y A Charlie Brown Christmas is, let's not forget in the fact that Linus' big speech about what Christmas is all about is actually biblical. Charlie Brown says, defiantly, walking home with his little tree: "Linus is right, I won't let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas." So, if we want to define "Christmas-y" as being about the actual holiday that Christians celebrate on December 25, A Charlie Brown Christmas is pretty darn Christmas-y.
But it's not just the religious that makes A Charlie Brown Christmas the winner here. Though a product of the '60s, A Charlie Brown Christmas still perfectly encapsulates the anxiety that surrounds this season. Charlie Brown, that classic juvenile depressive, captures the stress of feeling like you're not being as jolly as you should be when everyone else is caroling and decorating. Charlie Brown is serious stuff; The Grinch is a trifle.
On top of that, and perhaps ironically given the special's message of consumerism, A Charlie Brown Christmas is now simply a part of all of our Christmases. Guaraldi's brilliant soundtrack plays on loop and they even sell Charlie Brown Christmas trees.
Finally, Snoopy is the better cartoon dog than Max. Case closed.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Wow, you're giving me so many avenues to take to victory, I hardly know which one to embark on first! I'll go from last to first:
Snoopy is an asshole. There. It had to be said. He's an aloof jerk who expects Charlie Brown to wait on him hand and foot, all while he shows zero loyalty. He also interjects those interminable Red Baron interludes into half of Charlie's animated specials, like in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Max is loyal and courageous and helpful even when the Grinch is a rotten jerk to him. Max is better than all of us. Don't come for Max.
The crux of this conflict, however, is that we have two films here that are going for the same anti-consumerist message: Christmas is about more than things. As you mention, Charlie Brown posits that, just as these t-shirts say, Jesus is the reason for the season. Which is a good message for a great many people. But it's also pretty limiting to anybody who falls outside traditional Christian denominations. What The Grinch says is that the indomitable Christmas spirit is in the sense of community and togetherness it engenders in its celebrants. And, to go even further, that spirit was always there. The one malcontent at the beginning of the story just had to notice it and believe it. Contrast that with Charlie Brown, where everybody really is just a relentless dick to Charlie Brown, until they all decide to feel sorry for him and decorate his sad little tree.
Which, okay, I will grant you that the sad little Charlie Brown Christmas Tree is a more indelible Christmas image than the tree in The Grinch that folds up like an umbrella. You also probably take the crown when it comes to the music, but only because regular people feel self-conscious singing "Da-Hoo-Doris" in mixed company.
Here's why The Grinch is the more quintissentially Christmas-y movie, though: way more people have felt the way the Grinch does than have felt the way Charlie Brown does. Way more people have looked at a group of people celebrating the holidays together—all happy and smiling and loud and singing and enjoying the nice presents they've given each other— and thought, essentially, "Ugh." That's basically the Grinch. He's a lonely guy who looks at people who have loved ones and happiness and thinks, "What a bunch of loud jerks. They must be jerks." We've all done it at one point or another.
We've certainly done that more often than we've sat down with our depressed grade-schooler pals and intellectualized our position on the commercialization of Christmas with regard to doghouse-decorating contests.