Everyone has their own favorite holiday film. Some go with the Oscar nominated, family classics, like It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. I go for a film that best reflects the Christmas and family values I grew up with, A Christmas Story. It was not nominated for any major awards, but nonetheless I felt compelled to share it with you.
The film has a corny type of nostalgia, as the adult Ralphie (voiced by Jean Shepherd) looks back and narrates one of the most memorable Christmas seasons of his childhood. It’s filled with a variety of hilarious misadventures. A friend double-dog-dares another friend to stick his tongue to a frozen flag pole. Ralphie’s father wins a “major award” and displays it in the window, much to his mother’s dismay. And of course, Ralphie’s cunning pursuit to receive the ultimate Christmas gift: an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.
Now Ralfie (Peter Billingsley) is like the kind of kid I once was. His big glasses soak up the world around him and he dreams of a Christmas gift that seems out of his reach. When faced with trouble, like witnessing Flick’s tongue freezing to the pole, or ratting his old man out for teaching him such filthy language, he is a bit of a coward. When he’s dropped the ball, he can really get down on himself, knowing that his real punishment will be the absence of that BB gun. But after so much holiday stress, the kid can snap and find himself beating the snot out of the biggest bully on the block.
The way the family works reminds me so much of my childhood. My younger siblings were also a comforting thorn in my side. We would also regularly hear my father curse at whatever machine he was working on. The soap treatment was also punishment for repeating the words dad didn’t mean to teach me. My siblings and I witnessed our parents restrained feud over decorations, whether they be tacky or tasteful. And whenever we were in real trouble, our mom could down play it enough to save our little butts.
What makes this movie so great, every year, is all the memorable moments that seem to live on. Seeing Ralphie with a huge red bar of soap sticking out of his mouth has become iconic. A few years ago, we gave a leg lamp replica to my father for Christmas. The mashed potato scene lives on as a contest held in northern Indiana, where the film was based. The ending in the Chinese restaurant is always worth waiting for.
The most memorable scene is visiting Santa. Today, most mall Santa stations are fairly low key, and only one story. This Santa sits at the top of a staircase, with a red slide to send the kids down when their time with him is over. He and his elves are less than cheerful, physically lifting and turning each kid, leaving them disoriented on Santa’s lap, his creepy red face too close for comfort. For small kids, it can be an intense scene. Ralphie’s sense of urgency is heightened, with a long line to wait in and the store closing soon. When he finally finds himself on Santa’s lap, his mind blanks and he nearly blows his opportunity to tell the big man what he wants for Christmas. At the last moment, he catches himself on the slide and tells Santa what he wants, only to get that dreaded response he’s heard over, “You’ll shoot your eye out kid.” And nothing says Merry Christmas like Santa’s foot on your forehead, sending you down to a pile of fluff, next to your crying kid brother.
While A Christmas Story is no Oscar worthy film, it gets my praises every year. It perfectly tells the story of a kid’s Christmas, what is most important to him and his family’s dynamic. The best part is, while kids are focusing on their wish lists and calculating toward that perfect gift, it’s the parents who ultimately make that attainable. Of course, never tell this to a kid, they figure it own once they’re older.
“They looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.”