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What Southern Folks Eat: In defense of Charlie Brown Christmas trees

By Stephanie Hill-Frazier Guest Columnist

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” - Linus van Pelt

The holidays that occur in December - Christmas, especially - certainly have earned a reputation for being bigger than life, commercial, and, of course, fun. But what happens when a year like 2020 comes along, with its coronavirus and political firestorms, and changes all of that?

An image from a Charlie Brown Christmas
Cranberry white chocolate chip cookies with walnuts

Well, I think back to good ol’ Charlie Brown, and his Christmas special, which premiered in Dec. 1965. I watched it every year growing up in the 1970s and still watch it now when I have the opportunity. It’s so special, and, unusual for a kids’ cartoon, shares a deep message about the holiday season and its meaning. Plus, it has a fantastic soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio which I listen to it on repeat every December. 

When we watch it, we can all find ourselves in this sweet little cartoon somewhere. Lucy was going to be disappointed if she didn’t have the biggest, most modern Christmas tree. Charlie’s little sister Sally had an extra-long list for Santa to fulfill. As for Charlie, he really just hoped someone would send him a Christmas card. He was depressed and wanted to know someone… anyone… was thinking about him.

“Rats. Nobody sent me a Christmas card today. I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?” he asks.

Of course, when he is tasked by Lucy with picking out a Christmas tree for the school play, she expects a huge modern monstrosity that will impress everyone who sees it. Charlie and his friend Linus go to the lot to choose a tree, and then he sees it: the most scraggly, loneliest-looking evergreen available. 

“This little green one here seems to need a home,” he says to Linus. 

“I don't know, Charlie Brown. Remember what Lucy said? This doesn't seem to fit the modern spirit,” Linus warns him.

“I don't care. We'll decorate it and it'll be just right for our play. Besides, I think it needs me,” he says, picking up the tree, which sheds many of its needles as he does. 

Of course, when he returns to Lucy with the tree she berates him, to his dismay.

“Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Charlie asks in frustration.

Linus steps up to remind them what the real meaning of Christmas is, quoting from the Bible. 

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” he says in his sweet little boy voice, as a spotlight shines on him, standing alone on the stage.

“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…”

Linus drops his security blanket on purpose.

“… for behold, I bring unto 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 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, good will toward men.'"

Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown, and says, “That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Thankfully, the other characters are reminded by this that they’ve gotten a bit out of control with their expectations and demands, and do a mental reset, embracing the simple tree (which, of course, becomes beautiful in their eyes when they decorate it) and singing Christmas carols around it, realizing that the spirit of friendship and love trumps the commercialism of the season.

I love the message that creator Charles Schulz shared with his innocent little 1965 cartoon. This year, with the difficulties so many have faced, whether job loss, sickness, isolation, or even the loss of loved ones, I believe the message is more important than ever: love each other, the way it was modeled for us. We can be there for each other, and be grateful for simple things, like small scraggly Christmas trees with few gifts underneath, because the gift we all need in abundance right now is not more stuff; it’s love. 

If you’d like to share some love right out of your warm kitchen, here are a few of my favorite recipes to help you do that. Sharing simple holiday treats is an exceptional way to let people know they were thought of, and it makes you feel the holiday spirit even more deeply, too.

Andes Chocolate-Mint Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup salted butter – softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon. baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 package (10 oz.) Andes Crème de Menthe Baking Chips
  • 2-2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Method

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Blend butter, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla and eggs until mixed.

Stir in Andes Baking Chips and then flour. Chill approximately one hour in the refrigerator.

Measure out approximately 1 oz. of dough. Form a ball and slightly flatten.

Raise oven rack one level above the middle and bake on non-stick baking pans.

Bake at 350° F for approximately 8 to 10 minutes.

Cool on pans for two minutes before removing.

Yields 4 dozen cookies

Mama Steph’s fruity oatmeal-white chocolate chip cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup dried fruit: chopped dried apples, dried cranberries, etc. Mixtures are great!
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • ½ cup caramel bits (optional)

Method

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients: flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla until mixture is well-combined.

Gradually add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition.

Stir in oats, then fruit, white chocolate chips, and caramel bits.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls (or use a medium cookie scoop) 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. (Tip: Line pans with parchment paper for easiest removal and cleanup.)

Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 1 minute before removing to wire racks.

Yield: 3-4 dozen, depending upon size.

Mama Steph’s cranberry-white chocolate chip cookies with walnuts

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Method

Heat oven to 375 degrees

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth.

Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Combine the flour and baking soda; stir into the sugar mixture. Mix in the white chocolate chips and cranberries.

Use a cookie scoop (I use the OXO Good Grips medium size scoop) and place scoops of dough on a nonstick cookie sheet, or use parchment paper to line sheets before placing and baking cookies.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. 

For best results, take them out while they are still soft, being careful not to overcook. Allow cookies to cool for 1 minute on the cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com, and she’d love to hear about your own favorite recipes via email at Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.