When Is ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ on TV in 2021? Plus, How to Stream the Holiday Special

The Thanksgiving turkey is barely cold, but the Christmas season is already in full swing, at least on TV. Hallmark Channel kicked off its annual holiday movie extravaganza back in October. And CBS aired the 1964 Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the Monday before Thanksgiving. But what about that other beloved holiday special, A Charlie Brown Christmas? If watching the Peanuts gang discover the true meaning of Christmas is part of your holiday ritual, we have the details on how you can watch the special for free in 2021. 

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ airs Dec. 19 on PBS

Snoopy and Charlie Brown with sad Christmas tree in promotional image for 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'
‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ | AppleTV+

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Apple snapped up the streaming rights to the three main Peanuts holiday specials in 2020. For the first time in decades, it looked like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and A Charlie Brown Christmas wouldn’t air on broadcast TV. 

Fortunately, public broadcaster PBS stepped in and struck a deal with Apple to keep the specials on television. The deal continues for 2021, with A Charlie Brown Christmas set to air Sunday, Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET on PBS stations. (Check local listings.) 

You can stream ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ on AppleTV+

In addition to a one-time airing on PBS, A Charlie Brown Christmas is also available to stream on AppleTV+. That’s actually the only place you can stream the Peanuts holiday specials, which also include Happy New Year, Charlie Brown, Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, and It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. 

If you’re new to AppleTV+, you can sign up for a 7-day free trial to watch Charlie Brown attempt to organize a holiday pageant with his friends. Otherwise, the service costs $4.99 per month. 

Lee Mendelson feared the Christmas special had ‘ruined’ Peanuts 

Charlie Brown and Linus Van Pelt leaning on a brick wall in the snow in 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'
‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ | ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

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Today, A Charlie Brown Christmas is part of the holiday canon. But the creators of the special didn’t have high hopes for its success after they finished it. 

“When we finished it, we all thought we had ruined Peanuts,” producer Lee Mendelson said in a 2010 interview with the Television Academy Foundation. “It seemed very slow and it was too religious, blah, blah.” 

Executives at CBS, which first broadcast the special in 1965, were also concerned. 

“They hated it. The two top people just hated it,” Mendelson recalled. “They said, you know, it’s too slow, it’s very religious … and it’s not particularly fun. And I was just devastated.”

Mendelson delivered the finished special to the network just a week before it was set to air, so they went forward with the broadcast, despite their reservations. But television audiences saw something in the first Peanuts holiday special that the CBS execs missed. Fifteen million people watched the original broadcast, according to The New York Times, and the 30-minute cartoon about remembering the real meaning of Christmas amid rampant commercialism has aired on TV every year since. 

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