Whatever your tastes may be, whatever life you lead, whatever views you have, chances are you have a favorite Halloween TV Special. The best ones indulge in the spirit of the season. One such special has lasted over 50 years and is still so celebrated, it airs on ABC every Halloween. As a matter of fact, it aired on ABC in a prime-time slot just last week. That’s right, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is still watched on TV. It is even streamed for free on the ABC website right now. It contains the hallmarks of a Halloween show aimed to please family audiences: humorous costume jokes, seasonal touchstones such as raking up dry leaves and decorating pumpkins, Trick or Treating, and of course, characters that we could identify with emotionally as an audience.
For those unfamiliar, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is primarily about a boy named Linus and his beliefs about the Great Pumpkin, who Linus claims flies around every Halloween, bringing toys to all good boys and girls, and what happens when he waits for this Great Pumpkin to appear. While the Peanuts brand has be considered overly wholesome or heavy in Christian messages for some, “It’s the Great Pumpkin” is certainly worth the watch on its own for some humor that works best with older audiences, and of course is often regarded as a classic.
However, something is not made ‘classic’ by popularity and the passage of time alone. There are plenty of movies and television shows that were good in their time but do not work half a century later. It thus begs the question, why does Charles Schulz’s second holiday-centric episode still air, and furthermore, should it be considered a classic Halloween special?
There is not a single attempt to truly scare the viewer, nor are there monsters to fear. The episode is everyone in the community celebrating Halloween in their own ways and how that plays out. A pinch of suspense and plenty of good humor are healthily sprinkled in to create just the right tone for the Peanuts approach to Halloween, and it is charming for it. For example, Snoopy, the beloved innocent yet mischievous imaginative beagle he is, spends his night pretending to be a World War I flying ace. He gets into an air battle with the infamous Red Baron as he sits atop his doghouse, sneaking away around town as if he’s in the war-torn French countryside, and ultimately is the one to rise out of that pumpkin patch to appear before Linus, not the Great Pumpkin. If a dog playing out his imagination and having an adventure is not adorable, I do not know what adorable means.
The biggest takeaway message of the special is simply that people give Halloween meaning and, and one gets out of the holiday what one puts into it because you get to be who you choose to be on Halloween. Charlie Brown is part of the party, but he was happier receiving the invitation than he was all Halloween night. Linus is positive no matter how much he is discouraged to waste his night in a pumpkin patch, waiting on something that does not exist, but his persistence reaches levels of stubbornness that lead him to the disappointment and created doubts in his mind that others warned him he would have. It is an important message because it is honestly a hard concept to understand at first as a child, and it is approached in such an innocent and subtle way that never overtakes the enjoyment of the episode and keeping up with all the fun. Having such a life lesson wrapped up in such a sweet package makes it easier to swallow and appreciate the older one gets, and probably why it has grown in value for so many each decade.
Still remains the question, what makes it a classic? While certain elements may be dated or old fashioned, it comes down to its heart. It is timeless in its message, speaks to new audiences who have grown up with Halloween being a celebration of whatever you choose to be, and gets right to the best part of the holiday. “It’s the Great Pumpkin” is a classic because it is, to use the words of Linus, “the most sincere.”