When it comes to Christmas films, there are few moments more iconic than Linus’ recitation of the Nativity story in A Charlie Brown Christmas. It has become immortalized in the consciousness of our modern holiday experience.
What’s odd though, is that a very different kind of Linus shows up in It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, which came out less than a year later. Both Linuses are characters of faith, but that faith shows up in very different forms.
In the Charlie Brown Halloween special, Linus is obsessed with his belief in the Great Pumpkin, a being he believes shows up to the “most sincere pumpkin patch” and delivers toys to good children. He is mercilessly persecuted and made fun of because of his belief, but persists nevertheless, even when the foundation of his faith appears faulty.
Linus is peaceful and assured in this story because he knows where his security lies: in the story of a God who comes down as a child to rescue us.Chris Yokel
In one respect, this could appear to communicate a noble lesson in holding fast to your beliefs despite persecution. However, I’m more interested in the shape Linus’ faith takes. Frankly, it’s an anxious one. Russell Moore points out the transactional nature of Linus’ belief: “In the Pumpkin cult, Linus tries to work up ‘sincerity’—that which the Great Pumpkin rewards.” This transactional faith seems to drive Linus’ anxiety, for example, in a climactic moment he castigates himself for saying “if the Great Pumpkin comes” instead of “when” and then laments, “I’m doomed! One little slip like that can cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by.”
The Great Pumpkin sounds like a horrible deity to serve. It also sounds like some of the ways that I and probably you have thought about God at times: harsh, demanding, unforgiving.
No wonder Linus is so anxious.
Halloween Linus reminds me of myself in my worst moments of faith, when I think that God is punitive and demanding, keeping a record of all my slightest faults and tainted motives, loving me out of some sort of obligation and not with any particular passion.
Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas seems to be in a very different place. In fact, he is quite the non-anxious presence throughout the story, and is there for Charlie Brown who is struggling with depression and despair. Rather than rushing around worriedly, Linus seems content with being. This of course seems to have something to do with his proclamation in the middle of the story, where he tells of the birth of Jesus:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.—Linus Van Pelt / Luke Chapter Two
Many writers have pointed out how Linus drops his famous security blanket during this speech, right when he says “fear not.” Linus is peaceful and assured in this story because he knows where his security lies: in the story of a God who comes down as a child to rescue us.
Jason Soroski writes, “Looking at it now, it is pretty clear what Charles Schultz was saying, and it’s so simple it’s brilliant. The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead.”
In the past few years I feel like I’ve been leaning into this kind of faith more. Of course, I have my days of anxious striving, as we all do. But I hope my life—and all our lives—feel a lot more like dropping the blanket and less like waiting nervously at night in the pumpkin patch.
Chris currently teaches writing and literature to community college students in Massachusetts. He is the author of six books of poetry, and can probably be found reading a book, drinking chai, and wearing flannel. In 2018 he and his wife Jen co-founded The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, hanging out in coffee shops, and poking around used bookstores.