I don’t have to tell you that these are weird, confusing, dark and loud times. And with the holidays here, it’s not always easy to put that behind us and enjoy the season in all its glittery cheerfulness. 

But despite that, what stands out to me most as I and we end another hard year is how acts of pure and selfless kindness have meant the most to me, almost always moving me to tears when they crop up. We see it in Mister Rogers, who is experiencing a revival of sorts years after his death in a time where he seems to have no successors. We see it in Tom Hanks playing Mister Rogers. And we do see it in the holiday season, in Linus gently reminding Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about in one of the longest-running Christmas specials.

That special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” is now in its 54th year, meaning it has aired 32 more years than I’ve been alive. 

Completed just 10 days before its premiere date of Dec. 9, 1965, almost everyone involved thought the half-hour animated special, featuring the iconic “Peanuts” characters from Charles M. Schulz’s comic, was going to be a disaster. Executives hated the jazz soundtrack, the children’s voices and the anti-consumerist message. 

"I really believed, if it hadn't been scheduled for the following week, there's no way they were gonna broadcast that show," producer Lee Mendelson later said. 

And yet, jazz music, choppy kid voices and continuity errors abound, it became one of the most beloved Christmas specials of all time. 

I don’t know when I first saw “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I don’t know when it became a significant marker each season, and I don’t remember when I began playing Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack on loop as soon as the Texas weather was cool enough to warrant a sweater. 

When I was in elementary school, I was absolutely convinced I was going to grow up and become a cartoonist. Forget the fact that I couldn’t actually draw that well — I was going to be the next Charles M. Schulz, whom I had adopted as my hero. I scoured Recycled Books, a used book store in my (sort of) hometown of Denton, Texas, buying up all the Peanuts collections I could get my hands on and doodling in notebooks regularly and quietly. 

For me, “Peanuts” represented a childhood I could relate to, even having been born 47 years after its inception. I was a kid waiting for the day I could think and talk and listen like an adult, when I finally breached the boundaries that automatically came with being young. Here, in this world, Linus quotes the Gospel of Luke, Lucy is a professional psychiatrist and Charlie Brown needs involvement to break out of his seasonal depression. They didn’t have to wait until adulthood to act like adults. They didn’t even have to wait until adulthood to have adult problems. 

I don’t know when I first saw “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I don’t know what it meant to me then, but I know what it means to me now. 

Two autumns ago, I was in a place I hadn’t realized I’d always been in, faced with illogical anxiety and worry so intense it would paralyze me at night. In the months of feeling like I was dangling off the edge at every moment, not sleeping, not eating, barely leaving my house, I clung to simple habits and interests like life preservers, gathering them under my arms trying to lift the unbearably heavy weight that was me and my own seemingly self-destructing brain.  

In between “Gilmore Girls” reruns and endless cups of coffee to stay awake after another sleepless night, one of those things became the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It was familiar, simultaneously hopeful and soothing yet somber enough to keep it from becoming disingenuous or falsely cheerful. Christmastime was there, yet I, like Charlie Brown, felt there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t feel the way I was supposed to feel. 

At age 20 and in the anxiety pit I had nested in, the Christmas season felt hollow and full of unmet expectations as it does for many of us as we get older. I was stressed for myself, missing my sister in another state, feeling worried about going home to family who expected me to be thriving in college. A Christmas special that begins with an increasingly depressed-looking kid traipsing through the snow seemed to fit my mood far more than cheerful mall music and colorful window displays. 

But slowly, nights spent with Guaraldi’s jazz and the actual Gospel of Luke and the original Christmas story lured me back out. I became radically honest about how I was feeling. I reached out to others when I felt myself sinking lower. I prayed. When I needed it most, Charles M. Schulz showed me that it was okay to feel depressed, lonely and anxious, even when the season called for the exact opposite.  

At the climactic point of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Charlie Brown throws his hands in the air in desperation after everyone laughs at him for bringing back a scraggly, small, non-aluminum tree for the Christmas play.  

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” 

Linus immediately answers, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” before serenely commanding the stage with the King James Version of Luke 2:8-14, blanket in hand.  

And Charlie Brown, despite none of his problems actually being solved, despite no one apologizing to him or treating him as a friend or respecting him as the Christmas play director, smiles as he walks away with his scraggly, small, non-aluminum tree. 

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One year later on the night before Thanksgiving, my dad and I were driving up I-35 on the way to join my sister at my aunt and uncle’s home in Oklahoma. I had put on my personal Spotify playlist for the season, which already included the entirety of Guaraldi’s soundtrack to the Peanuts special. 

As one of the songs shuffled through, my dad remarked on how Guaraldi’s Christmas renditions always gave him a certain feeling. I suggested “melancholy,” though that wasn’t quite it to him. 

“It always made me think, ‘I’m not going to be a kid much longer,’ even when I was a kid,” he said, laughing from the driver’s seat. 

And he’s right. I’m now far away from my childhood dreams of Schulz-like fame and wisdom and feel even farther away from my childhood itself. My Christmases involve intricate planning and stress instead of carols and Christmas plays. I don’t doodle in notebooks, coming up with characters and plot points and dialogue to deal with my own Charlie Brown-like loneliness. Instead, I’m working my first full-time job, navigating a world where I had so desperately wanted to be included years ago. Problems don’t go away during Christmastime. 

But every year, I still make it a point to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and let Linus remind me what it’s all about, even when I feel as far away from merry as I could possibly be.   

Now I can’t help but marvel at the accidentalness of it all, that everything would come together so perfectly around a forlorn tree and a toy piano and six verses, that everyone involved in the making of the special thought it had been a disaster, that now, over 50 years later, I still play the soundtrack on repeat every fall and winter and very occasionally cry over my younger years for all of the good and bad. 

I don’t know when I first saw “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I can’t tell you if this cartoon means so much to me because of nostalgia, its unlikely success, its simplicity, the faith at its heart, the reassurance that I can feel however I need to feel, or that it’s just a reminder of being a kid even when I knew I wouldn’t always be a kid. 

But ultimately, I still feel the same way when it ends as I always have. Hopeful. At peace. Loved. And to me, that’s what Christmas is all about. 

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" airs Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.