Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Charlie Brown and a city's ugly Christmas tree

Published:Friday | December 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM
In this December 12, photo City Councilman Jeff Waltman photographs the city's official Christmas tree in Reading, Pa. Waltman fought to save the 50-foot Norway spruce that many residents compared to the spindly tree in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and the city is now embracing the "Peanuts" theme. (AP Photo)

READING, Pennsylvania (AP):

Reading's official Christmas tree has brought the city plenty of grief. Good grief.

When the 50-foot Norway spruce went up last month, it drew immediate comparisons to the scraggly sapling in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Its giant bare spots and asymmetrical branches were no one's idea of Christmas tree perfection - especially in Pennsylvania, one of the nation's largest producers. Some residents and city officials called it an embarrassment and demanded it be replaced with a more suitable specimen.

Instead, Reading decided to embrace the Charlie Brown theme.

Workers wrapped a blue blanket around its base a la Linus, and adorned it with a single red ball. The city announced a worldwide photo and essay contest, with winners to receive copies of the book version of the beloved TV special. And tomorrow, the public is invited to give the tree a makeover, just like the Peanuts gang surprised Charlie Brown by turning his puny pine into a trimmed, twinkling tannenbaum.

Turns out Reading's tree wasn't bad at all, really. It just needed a little love.

"Christmas is so commercialised that we tend to forget what Christmases used to be like," said Mayor Vaughn Spencer, channelling good ol' Charlie Brown himself. "Sometimes we have to keep things in perspective, and I think that's the lesson here."

Amy Johnson, the daughter of the late 'Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz, said her father would be tickled that A Charlie Brown Christmas has made a real-world impact nearly a half-century after its release.

"All he ever wanted to do with his strip was make people happy," she said. "And if he could bring the town together, that would make him very happy."

As generations of fans know, A Charlie Brown Christmas has the lovable loser picking a tree for the Christmas play. After he rescues a tiny sapling that's losing its needles, the other kids scold him for his ineptitude and laugh derisively at the tree. Then Linus tells the biblical story of Jesus' birth, and the gang has a change of heart.

In Reading, the story doesn't have such a tidy ending.

Several pedestrians insulted the tree as ugly and unworthy as they walked past on a recent day, the lone red ball swaying in a stiff breeze.