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November 20, 1973: “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” Premiered

Photo: Courtesy Lee Mendelson Film Productions / Peanuts Worldwide ©PNTS

On November 20, 1973, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” premiered on CBS. Based on the popular “Peanuts” comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, the holiday special has aired every year since its 1973 debut. The special opens up with one of the most iconic scenes in cartoon history when Lucy yanks the football away from Charlie Brown when he attempts to kick it. The history behind why Lucy tortures Charlie Brown with this ongoing prank is tied to Schulz’s feminist mission. His agenda in promoting girl power also inspired another empowered female Peanuts character, Peppermint Patty, who has a prominent role – alongside Snoopy, Woodstock, Marcie, Franklin, Pigpen, Sally and Linus – in the beloved Thanksgiving special.

Since the special opens with the Lucy and Charlie Brown football trope, we often only associate Lucy’s prank with “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” However, there is actually a twenty year history behind it, rooted in Schulz’s feminist message. The reason why Lucy annually embarrasses Charlie goes back to an affront dating back to a “Peanuts” comic strip in 1953. It turns out that the source of Lucy’s anger is rooted in Charlie Brown’s mean-spirited response to when she tries to unsuccessfully kick the
football. He says, “Little girls don’t belong on the football fields. Go home!” Lucy responds, “I don’t understand… I was the star fullback in nursery school…” and then Charlie tells her to “GO ON HOME!” An interesting side note is that previous to Charlie
lashing out at Lucy, he is shown in a previous comic strip failing to kick the football on his own. His cruel words to Lucy might reveal his own insecurity about his subpar football skills.

Whatever the case, Schulz chose to make Lucy a strong female character who seeks annual revenge for the 1953 slight. He further develops Lucy into a feminist icon with her confident, boss lady persona with an advanced business acumen for an 8-year-old. Instead of running a lemonade stand like other kids her age, she operates a psychiatric booth where she doles out advice for a fee.

Lucy is not the only strong female character in the Peanuts gang. In fact, Peppermint Patty became a strong advocate for female athletes a few years after the first airing of the Thanksgiving special. In “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” she is the source of the main drama – aside from Charlie Brown’s annual football moment – when she causes Charlie Brown to double book his Thanksgiving plans. Schulz first introduced the freckled tomboy with her green shirt and trademark sandals to his comic strip series in 1966. Although Peppermint Patty was inspired by the candy, her character went on to encourage women to fight for their rightful place on the sports field.

Ever since he started the “Peanuts” comic strip in 1950, Schulz favored a more low-key political message in his cartoons. However, his friendship with the tennis star and “Battle of the Sexes” champion Billie Jean King inspired him to take a more outspoken stance in his fight for equal rights for women. In 1976, Schulz joined King’s board, the Women’s Sports Foundation, to help promote female participation and gender equality in sports. Then, in the autumn of 1979, Schulz devoted 12 days of his “Peanuts” comic strip to promote gender equity in sports and the Title IX legislation. Peppermint Patty expresses her support for Title IX, saying that inequality in sports is “causing an uproar” and even telling her friend Marcie, “I think the day is coming when women will achieve equality in sports.” Thanks to Schulz, millions of readers were exposed to the importance of achieving equality in sports for women.

Although Schulz passed away in 2000, we will forever associate the holiday season with “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” To this day, Charlie Brown and Snoopy are still the most iconic characters in the Peanuts gang and in cartoon history. However, it’s also important to remember that Schulz was an important champion of women’s rights with his powerfully outspoken female characters, Lucy and Peppermint Patty.

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