When Is ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ on TV in 2020?

Christmas is going to look a bit different this year. For one, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put many holiday traditions on hold. Visits to Santa have gone virtual, families are trading big gatherings for intimate celebrations, and holiday parades and annual performances of The Nutcracker have been canceled. But at least we can all still curl up in front of the TV and watch some of our favorite holiday specials, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, right?

Not so fast. This year, for the first time in more than half a century, it looked like the Peanuts Christmas special wouldn’t air on broadcast television; instead it would stream exclusively on Apple TV+. But a last-minute deal with PBS means Charlie Brown will still air on TV this year.

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ has found a new home on Apple TV+ 

Charlie Brown and Linus with Christmas tree
A Charlie Brown Christmas | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

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In a surprise move, Apple announced in late October that it had acquired A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Rather than airing as usual on ABC, the three specials would only be available to stream on Apple TV+. It seemed anyone who wanted to stream the iconic specials would have to fork over $4.99 a month to do so. 

The news that the specials wouldn’t be free to view for all was a huge disappointment to some, who didn’t hesitate to share their feelings on Twitter. One person even started a Change.org petition to bring the specials back to TV, which has garnered more than 250,000 signatures. 

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ will stream for free beginning Dec. 11 

Perhaps anticipating that upset fans would cry “Scrooge!” after learning it would be harder to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this year, Apple decided to offer people a small gift. It’s making each holiday special available to stream for free on a limited basis.   

A Charlie Brown Christmas will debut on Apple TV+ on Dec. 4. The 1965 cartoon will then stream for free from Dec. 11 through Dec. 13. You’ll just need to install the Apple TV app or visit tv.apple.com to watch.

If you miss the free streaming window and aren’t interested in signing up for Apple TV+ to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, you’re not totally out of luck. While the special isn’t available to stream anywhere else, you can still buy the DVD from Amazon and other retailers. 

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ will also air on PBS

In addition to a free streaming window on Apple TV, fans will also be able to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas for free on PBS and PBS Kids. It will air Dec. 13 at 7:30 pm local time/6:30 pm CT. (Check your local listings.)

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ was an unlikely success when it first aired 

Charlie Brown and Linus talking
A Charlie Brown Christmas | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

In the 55 years since its premiere, A Charlie Brown Christmas has become a beloved holiday classic. But the special’s creators initially thought they had a dud on their hands. Coca-Cola — the special’s original sponsor — had given Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, producer Lee Mendelson, and animator Bill Melendez just a few months to pull together Charlie Brown’s first-ever animated feature. When they finished, no one was entirely pleased with the results, particularly with what they thought was poor-quality animation. 

“The first time I saw it projected on a screen, I turned to the people there and said, ‘We’ve killed it,’ Melendez told The Spokesman-Review in 1995. “I thought we had destroyed the property. I was so unhappy.” 

Melendez couldn’t have been more wrong. People loved A Charlie Brown Christmas and its message about the over-commercialization of the holiday. 

“It was one of those amazing miracles that occur every now and then,” Schulz said. “It’s something you can’t predict.”

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