There is so much improbable about the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas. There's a decidedly dated feel to the animation, the subdued nature of the characters and the music. There's no flash. There's spectacle. And, oh, that music. That little jazz ditty has become a permanent fixture of Christmas and pop culture. It's the sort of thing you'd never hear in a children's cartoon today.
Perhaps the most improbably aspect of all is that the denouement of the entire story is Linus reciting the bible (followed a bit later by the singing of Hark the Herald Angels Sing). When everyone else is talking about Frosty or Rudolph, Santa or Will Ferrell in an elf costume, Peanuts is talking about Jesus.
The similarity to The Chronicles of Narnia is unmistakable. Part of the pop culture canon, though seemingly not overtly religious, is still telling the story of Christ. It's an important reminder during a season where people will claim the existence of a fantastical war on Christmas because the local sales clerk says, "Happy Holidays," or Starbucks doesn't put snowflakes on their red (red!) cups. (Never mind they sell two coffees called "Christmas Blend").
The secular and sacred can live together. (Actually, that seems to really jibe with the idea of God becoming flesh.) We can enjoy the trappings of a popular Christmas, stripped of its religious underpinnings, while at the same time experiencing the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love of the season.
It may be true that more and more people who celebrate Christmas aren't celebrating the birth of Christ, and we can lament that. We can lament it while at the same time revelling in the fact that the joy of Christmas seeps beyond the church walls and beyond those of us who identify as Christian. And, hopefully, that joy will help keep the church relevant to people who would otherwise completely remove themselves from a life of a faith.
There's a song I tend to listen to around Christmas time. It's called Come on! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance! , and it's a great song that weds the sacred and the secular. It's a song about Christmas, Santa, presents, family, community, joy and the birth of Christ. It has a rather perfect line:
Chestnuts and fire, holly and hay
Jesus and Mary, what a great day
Further, underneath a refrain about Santa bringing presents, Away in a Manger is sung as a counter-melody, and it works absolutely perfectly. Too often, people of faith try to divorce themselves of the physical world, the non-religious parts, the profane...but in reality, bringing all unexpected parts of our existence together can lead to a wonderful little tune.