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Rights + Justice

Birth of a Revolutionary

Does anyone remember Jesus was a radical, not a Wal-Mart greeter?

Bill Tieleman 22 Dec

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him or visit his blog.

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A message of social justice.

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" -- Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965

He was a radical, an angry man who physically threw loan sharks out of the churches, befriended prostitutes and the poor and so challenged the rule of military authorities that they cruelly executed him in public.

Jesus Christ was not working for Wal-Mart. Jesus was not promoting seasonal gift giving based on a religious holiday or corporate windfall profits from making toys in sweatshops exploiting child labour.

No, Jesus was working for revolutionary change.

So as we celebrate the day marking Christ's birth consider that the leader of one of the world's largest religions demanded sweeping social justice, not weekly prayers.

And whether you are a follower of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or another religion, or are, like me, an agnostic, secularist, humanist or atheist -- it's important to understand this at Christmas.

Charlie Brown had it right

Christ's true mission is rarely seen or heard at this time of year. And ironically, one of the few places one can watch a telling critique of the commercialization of Christmas has been broadcast on commercial television each year since 1965.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is generally seen as a popular children's program with a seasonal feel-good lesson.

In fact, cartoonist Charles Schultz managed to promote a highly subversive message that severely criticizes advertising -- while using it to pay for sending his vision to an audience of hundreds of millions. Brilliant!

Where else could you hear this line from Lucy Van Pelt: "Look, Charlie, let's face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know."

Charlie's little sister Sally has a similarly cynical view of Christmas. She cannot yet write a letter to Santa but convinces her brother to take dictation:

Sally: "How is your wife? I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I want."

Charlie Brown: "Oh brother."

Sally: "Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How about tens and twenties?"

Charlie Brown: "TENS AND TWENTIES? Oh, even my baby sister!"

Sally: "All I want is what I... I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share."

And as Lucy's brother Linus Van Pelt realizes: "Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it's getting too dangerous."

Charlie Brown sums up his confusion: "I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed."

Give to charities, and work for change

The irony of the original broadcast -- sponsored by Coca-Cola -- was that the CBS network didn't like A Charlie Brown Christmas, not for its anti-commercialism but because in the key scene where Linus answers Charlie's question about the meaning of Christmas, he directly quotes the Bible.

But Coca-Cola liked and approved the show, so CBS was overruled and the broadcast premiered on Dec. 9, 1965 at 8 p.m.

CBS executives worried that a show about Christmas was "pro-Christian"!

They needn't have. A Charlie Brown Christmas was the number two show of that week, with very few complaints about its overt religious content, and won an Emmy Award for best children's television program.

A Charlie Brown Christmas has become a winter staple ever since. Thank God!

You too can remember the true meaning of Christmas -- by supporting charities that help those in need.

Season's greetings to all my Tyee and 24 Hours readers. I return Jan. 5 but check for occasional items, including on the unbelievable sixth anniversary of the B.C. Legislature Raid, December 28, 2003 -- without a trial.

[Editor's note: the comment section is close for the holidays and will re-open Jan. 4th. Thanks for all your thoughtful commentary this year. Looking forward to more of the same in the next!]  [Tyee]

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