The Optimism of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

Illustrated by Anasthasia Shilov

Seasonal traditions in my hometown of Santa Rosa, California, often revolve around the Peanuts gang. You can’t blame us, really—our main claim to fame is Charles M. Schulz, creator of the revered Peanuts comic strip, who spent most of his life in the southeastern quadrant of the city. So, like any good not-quite-big-city-but-not-quite-small-town, we capitalize on what we can: during the winter, we ice skate at Snoopy’s Home Ice Rink; come the warm days of spring, we search for the dozens of life-sized statues of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Woodstock, and Snoopy scattered throughout downtown; as summer rolls around, we take our vacation flights out of the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport; in autumn, we roam haunted corn mazes and watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! in the Schulz Museum theater until we’re absolutely sick of it—only we never are. 

Now, as I watch the deciduous trees of the Northeast begin to shed their sunset leaves and enter my first autumn away from home, I long for the sweet familiarity of these comfort characters. I find solace in something so simple as Lucy repeatedly pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, Linus refusing to part with his security blanket, or Woodstock chirping gibberish in secret conversations with his best pal Snoopy. 

Ever since coming to New Haven, I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that the story of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! is not a universally identifiable Halloween reference. Last week, I joked to a few of my suitemates that we should leave some candy out in case the Great Pumpkin visited. I was met with puzzled looks—in part because it was a bad joke, but mostly because they were completely unfamiliar with the reference. I suppose a natural consequence of changing scenery is realizing that the core memories of our childhoods are not the nostalgic staples of everyone else’s, but still, it shook me. So, last week, in the spirit of romanticizing homesickness, I rewatched that beloved childhood show. 

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! is by all definitions a sad story. For readers unfamiliar with the plot, I will provide the long and short of the most important storyline during the 25-minute program: it’s Halloween, and the Peanuts gang is up to their usual antics before heading off for trick-or-treating. The one person absent from the group is Linus, who is waiting in his local pumpkin patch for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. Linus believes that the Great Pumpkin rises out of the most sincere pumpkin patch— there being none more sincere than his own—then flies into the air, delivering presents to all the good children of the world.  Because of his belief in the Great Pumpkin, Linus becomes the laughingstock of the gang. Eventually, after a night of mockery and loneliness, a figure finally rises from the middle of the patch, but Linus is so overcome with emotion that he faints. The figure turns out to be Snoopy, and Linus stays alone through the night, waiting in vain, until his older sister drags him home. 

As a little girl clutching my 50-cent popcorn in the dim theater of the Schulz Museum, I laughed at Linus’ misery, partly because I felt obligated to do so. How ridiculous, it seemed, that he would believe in a mythical flying gourd that brings gifts and glory to some lucky pumpkin patch. By the time I watched this program, I was already well aware of the truth about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the like. I thought myself part of a secret club that knew the truths of childhood, and Linus simply a poor outsider waiting to get in. 

I am older now, and instead of laughing, my heart breaks as I watch poor Linus sacrifice his evening and dignity in hopes of glimpsing the Great Pumpkin. The reality of his emotional loneliness is less clouded by the youthful animation, perhaps because now I have tasted loneliness myself. 

In truth, I envy Linus. The image of him clutching his security blanket, sitting in naive solitude, alone in a pumpkin patch nearing midnight—this remains one of the clearest and most profound declarations of faith I have ever seen displayed (and in a children’s show, no less). Perhaps Linus’s hope can be chalked up to blind optimism, or perhaps it’s meant to represent religious fervor. I choose to see his demonstration of faith as a display of radical optimism: I don’t know what is more frightening than dedicating yourself so wholly and truly to something you can only hope exists. I’d like to believe in something that much someday. 

In a place like Yale where everything is painfully and thrillingly new, establishing my own identity has been…tricky, to say the least. It’s easier than ever to tuck certain parts of my personality into a box, store them safely in the corner of my mind, and only bring them into daylight when convenient for those around me. It’s exhausting; I have learned to forgo once sacred pieces of my identity in the name of adaptation. To be honest, a solitary pumpkin patch wouldn’t sound so lonely, if I knew I could be true to myself there. It’s a beautiful comfort, then, when I encounter those willing to join me in the night.

So, as you galavant your way through the week-long endeavor of Halloween at Yale, costumed with your new faces and new selves to match, see if there’s something in your life for which you’d be willing to skip the evening of revelry and sit alone in your own version of a pumpkin patch at midnight. Maybe you haven’t found that for yourself yet, and that’s okay—I know I haven’t. I think it’s enough to take the first step and hope like Linus that the ground will be there to meet you—although, I hope your own Great Pumpkin really does exist. 

Leave a Reply