How Charlie Brown Destroyed Aluminum Christmas Trees

Daniel Canfield
Nov 28, 2017 · 4 min read

Today we have Netflix, Hulu, and countless other on-demand TV options in addition to satellite and cable TV. But in 1965 most households only had access to 3 channels. ABC, NBC, and CBS.

The top three rated shows during the 1965–66 season were Bonanza, Gomer Pyle, USMC and The Lucy Show. Although color televisions were beginning to be rapidly adopted during the 1960’s, black and white continued to outsell color televisions until the early 70’s.

Television in 1965 wasn’t just drastically different from today; it was also much more influential considering there were only three channels to choose from in most homes,

On December 9, 1965, America was watching the debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 45% of the population that was watching television that night was watching the Christmas special. Estimates are that 15,490,000 households and 36 million people watched Charlie Brown and his friends that night.

Screenshot from A Charlie Brown Christmas

Today we talk about social media influencers, but in 1965 there was no Instagram, Twitter or YouTube. The three main broadcast TV channels were among the most significant influencers on American people, In addition to newspapers and magazines. The Country was undoubtedly influenced during the first airing of the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

Coca-Cola was the title sponsor of the animated Christmas special. Coca-Cola was responsible for asking for the special and getting the ball rolling on the creation of it. Sales of Coca-Cola increased after the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon aired. The most significant impact the show had though wasn’t growing Coca-Cola sales. The most extensive effect was felt by the aluminum Christmas tree industry.

In 1955 aluminum Christmas trees were being manufactured for the mass market. Aluminum Christmas trees are made of aluminum and have foil needles. What helped to popularize the aluminum Christmas trees is the lighting that was often used with them, A rotating color wheel.

Aluminum Christmas trees were at peak sales from 1958 until the airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. As you might recall, during the Christmas special Charlie Brown heads out to buy a Christmas tree. Lucy ordered him to buy an aluminum Christmas tree.

When Charlie Brown and Linus arrived at the tree lot, there were plenty of fancy aluminum trees for sale, but the only tree that catches his eye is a little sapling. It was also the only real tree on the lot. When he arrives back to the set of the play the girls started mocking him for choosing the ugly little tree. In a fit of frustration, he loudly asks if “anybody knows what Christmas is about?” Linus said that he did and then started quoting the Annunciation to the Shepherds from the Bible.

“…For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, 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 and goodwill towards men.”

After repeating scripture, Linus said “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Charlie then picks up his tree and heads for home. Charlie started to realize that he didn’t have to let the mass commercialization of Christmas ruin his holiday. The other kids soon follow, and they end up decorating the tiny sapling and singing.

It was that scene in the movie that was the direct downfall of aluminum Christmas trees. Instantly the aluminum Christmas tree was no longer popular with the American people. Aluminum Christmas trees continued to be made into the 70’s but were a small niche product. The broad mainstream appeal of the aluminum Christmas tree ceased to exist because of Charlie Brown.

Today the aluminum Christmas tree is becoming semi-popular again, but nowhere near as popular as it was at the height of its popularity in 1965. What was a fast-growing mainstream product that would be used by many generations instead became merely became a fad item. The crash of the aluminum Christmas tree was a direct result of the Charle Brown Christmas special.

And in a final salute to Charlie Brown and his rebellious attitude towards the commercialization of Christmas, small artificial saplings that resemble the tree in the movie are being sold. The so-called Charlie Brown trees are seeing sales increases each year. Buying Charlie Brown Christmas trees is fighting commercialization by purchasing other commercialized products. Good Grief!

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