In 1965 I was 10 years old. In full retreat from a mid-century family, I was a complete Peanuts fan boy. I had every (every) one of the bound compendiums, all the way back to the very first strip—started before I was born—plus bobblehead dolls, books on Charles Schulz (the cartoonist), and a poster or two.

I needed things like Peanuts, school, and food to take me out of a family that was in the mode of dysfunction so easily mocked today. I had a brother, a sophomore in high school, who knew that his life would be forever circumscribed by his parents’ determination that he was a “failure” (having brought home a decade of “C” report cards). My 20-year-old sister just could not take it, so she drove her Volkswagen Beetle to LA to be with an older boyfriend.

I was increasingly alone, and performing to avoid those judgments. I was chosen to recite “The Night Before Christmas” from memory for my school’s Christmas assembly. Before that, I sang, in total, the solo, “Deep in the Woods.” Later I would be chosen to recite Luke’s nativity story at my church’s Christmas pageant. In the academic realm, I got As, not Cs.

And I was “husky.” Being “husky” was not just because I had an endomorph physical sensibility, but because eating—especially eating in front of the miraculous TV, in all its black-and-white, four-channels-accessed-through-rabbit-ear-antenna glory—was just a response to the unending turmoil of a suburban life. My home was a place that ran on performance, appearances, cigarettes, and alcohol to cope.

In this time of “checking your privilege,” and extreme political divisions, we cannot avoid the word “trigger.” The Internet has become for this generation a complete cultural break, where every image, fact, standard, and judgment is as loud and available as my childhood TV and my dad’s Vat 69 Scotch. 

Without thought, study, planning, or really anything other than existence, every pic, vid, post, tweet is just there: at you. We are becoming response dummies reacting without thought, responding without awareness of why and what we are doing.

We are triggered. And in the holiday season, those triggers flood every part of every life.

So in the Husky Boy’s preteen life of avoidance, Peanuts was a balm. When A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted in 1965, it was another 30 minutes away from the screaming of a Mad Men-style family life. But it became more to a ten-year-old, living completely alone amid careening elders. Too well fed. Silent except at school. No athletics, music lessons, even parties, let alone ‘“hanging out” as my parents could do little more than react to their own chaos.

Charlie Brown was the perpetual human. High aspirations and inevitable failures. About 10 years old, like me. But Linus was younger, still had a “security blanket,” and was, to me, exquisitely compelling as a Philosopher Preteen.

So in 1965, my first cultural trigger outside of my family’s vicissitudes was born. I watched as the ever-failing Charlie Brown, the accused “blockhead,” found a dying stick for a Christmas tree and was fully mocked and rejected by all the other Peanuts for failing the image of Christmas. He had simply failed.

Enter Linus. Charlie Brown laments, “I guess you were right, Linus: I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I don’t really know what Christmas is all about. Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about!?”

Linus, at 7 or 8, knows the answer. “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” And he recites a story, just as I had at his age:

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.

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

I weep.