‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ Turns 53 With Two Airings On ABC

The 1965 Peanuts special has been a Yuletide tradition for over 50 years.

Scene from 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'
United Feature Syndicate / ABC

The 1965 Peanuts special has been a Yuletide tradition for over 50 years.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Yuletide classic, is set to return to ABC for two airings this holiday season. The digitally remastered 1965 special celebrates its 53rd anniversary this year, with airings on December 6 and 20, according to ABC. The 30-minute special, Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales, airs immediately following the Emmy-winning animated classic.

Fans of Schultz’s Peanuts posse are familiar with the classic story, one that follows a frustrated Charlie Brown — voiced by Peter Robbins — as he struggles to direct a Christmas pageant while taking a stand against commercialism, buying a tiny living tree amid a sea of flashy aluminum knockoffs.

Debuting on December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first of nearly 50 Peanuts animated specials — and is the second-longest running animated Christmas special of all time. Rankin-Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer beat the Peanuts gang by one year with its 1964 debut. A Charlie Brown Christmas aired annually from 1965 through 1999 on CBS, until ABC scooped it up in 2000. ABC then began airing it twice during each subsequent holiday season.

The holiday special was unique from the very beginning. Producer Lee Mendelson insisted on using real children to voice the Peanuts characters — including the kids of family friends and neighbors — and some of them had no acting experience.

“We decided we should use real children, which was, I think, the first time that had ever been done,” Mendelson told Time in 2011.

A Charlie Brown Christmas dancing scene
  United Features Syndicate / ABC

In fact, the only adult “voice” in the special belongs to director Bill Melendez, who provided Snoopy’s signature sounds in the 1965 special. Melendez would continue to do so for dozens more specials over the next 40 years. To create the sounds for Snoopy, the animator and director uttered gibberish, and an engineer later sped his voice up.

A Charlie Brown Christmas also stands out for its religious content, a rarity in television holiday specials. One of the most memorable scenes in A Charlie Brown Christmas features Linus — voiced by Christopher Shea — reciting scripture from the New Testament.

Lee Mendelson told the Washington Post that creator Charles Schulz insisted on including the biblical text in the script, reportedly saying, “If we don’t do it, who will?” The Peanuts producer later called Linus’ reading from the Gospel of Luke “the most magical two minutes in all of TV animation.”

You can see the famous scene below.

A Charlie Brown Christmas airs on Thursday, December 6 — and Thursday, December 20 — at 8 p.m. on ABC.