When I was a kid, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” was a story about a group of friends facing a series of problems ranging from not being able to cook to having to attend not one but two Thanksgiving dinners, a small yellow bird eating another bird, and my humorous attempts to catch the disappearing and reappearing ice cream sundaes at the dinner table, coupled with the frustration of yelling at the kid on the screen, “DON’T KICK IT SHE’S GOING TO PULL IT AWAY!!!” Fun fact: not once in all the 17,897 comic strips drawn by Charles Schulz has Charlie Brown successfully kicked the football from Lucy’s hands.
The lessons I’ve learned and comparisons I’ve drawn with Charlie Brown have been in my life ever since I saw a strip of the comic for the first time: in the first frame, Charlie Brown is dragging his feet as he mopes his way home with his baseball cap brushing the ground. “When you lose the first game of the season,” he says, “it’s a long walk home.” Second frame: “If anything gets in your way, you just want to kick it!” He sees a rock, aims for it; frame three: swipes half-heartedly at the rock, misses, falls over. And the fourth frame, he picks himself up and keeps on trudging home with the lesson learned: “Then you discover you can’t even kick good.” This short sequence of events sums up all the statements that kids eventually realize: life is hard, every defeat feels like the end of the world, and that bad luck doesn’t just leave you with one knockout punch ― no, it has to come back and kick you again.
Perhaps this is why the characters in Schulz’s comics are not as two dimensional as they appear on the screen: Peanuts provides us with a hero who is all too clumsy, gullible and socially awkward, who entirely acknowledges that he is unfit for this world ― yet without even trying, he exhibits kindness and compassion that are balanced nicely by his two favorite expressions, “Good grief!” and “AAAAAAAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!”, as well as his most memorable one: “I think I’ve discovered the secret of life — you just hang around until you get used to it.” His supporting characters are equally as complex: Linus is the “semi-mature” friend, confident enough to proudly display his blue security blanket wherever he goes and give great orations upon the origin of Thanksgiving, yet childish enough to stubbornly hold on to his belief of the Great Pumpkin; Lucy is brash and brawn and a bully but she does truly care ― at least enough to be the only one who realizes that Linus is still in the pumpkin patch at 4 in the morning and the only one who goes to retrieve him; Sally is the burgeoning feminist who nevertheless has a crush that rids her completely of all rational thought; Peppermint Patty is the overenthusiastic one who means well but never quite is able to be kind to others; Marcie is the quiet voice of conscience; and Snoopy is ― well, he’s Snoopy and Joe Cool and the sworn enemy of the Red Baron. Enough said.
Superheroes and fairytales may enthrall us, but Peanuts is one of the few stories that teaches us how to be human.
In the midst of our national disagreement over Columbus about whether we ought to honor or vilify him and the debate on the righteousness of the pilgrims, we ought to remember that these people were as nuanced as the Peanuts gang. As Marcie says in “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” “we should just be thankful for being together,” and “wait a minute, Sir; did he invite you here to dinner? Or did you invite yourself and us too?”
So this Thanksgiving, as we rewatch our favorite childhood show, let us remember to be thankful for being together and for whatever we have on our table ― be it a magically disappearing and reappearing ice cream sundae, buttered toast, and a few each of pretzel sticks, popcorn, and jelly beans ― because all we have comes from someone’s sacrifice, someone’s blood, sweat, and tears. And that someone usually isn’t us.