Though “A Christmas Story,” was written as a screenplay based on a series of monologues by Jean Shepherd a radio commentator for many years, it has taken the place of many of the old Christmas movies, like “White Christmas,” and even “It’s A Wonderful Life,” as one of the classics.
The thing I most enjoy about this film, is that it was almost exactly like my childhood Christmases. I didn’t want a Red Ryder BB gun, but so many of the incidents in that movie are things I can totally relate to. For example, the fanciest restaurant we dined at was a Chinese restaurant in downtown Milwaukee. We didn’t go there for Christmas dinner, but it was a special place, because we could eat food we didn’t normally eat, use chopsticks and be served by people in starched white shirts and black pants. They didn’t sing “Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra,” but if we came on Christmas Eve, I bet they would have.
Almost every little vignette in this movie is something we can hitch our own hats to. There was the washing out of the mouth with a bar of soap. I never actually experienced it, but was warned about it and believed it to be a possibility if I ever were to use a bad word. There was the Santa visit where we waited in long lines to see this man that we knew really didn’t exist, but hoped he did.
My dad won a prize for bowling one year. It wasn’t a lamp of a woman’s leg, but because he scored an almost perfect game of 298, he was awarded an onyx ring with the score imprinted upon it, along with a case of Wheaties, the Breakfast of Champions. I learned to love the cereal and still enjoy a bowl of Wheaties from time to time. I was very impressed with my dad and shared my bragging rights with everyone.
When a huge Christmas box arrived from Grandma, we knew there would be lots of fun things to enjoy – including her special home made cookies. There would be coloring books, books to read, socks and Muck Lucks (stockings/slippers all in one.) I loved wearing those toasty socks. I never got a bunny suit, but there was always something I didn’t particularly like, but I knew grandma had spent a lot of time thinking about what to get us, so I appreciated it.
The “triple dog dare” was probably instituted during my childhood. Almost every year we’d hear about someone who got his tongue stuck to the flag pole. There were the snow suits that made it impossible to walk. Instead we rolled our way to school. I also remember writing essays on what we wanted for Christmas.
When I was dating my now husband, my mother wanted to impress him by making his favorite meal – turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings. The first time, she forgot to turn on the oven before going to work. The second day she tried again and forgot again. On the third day, we all sat down to a wonderful feast. I’m surprised we didn’t get salmonella poisoning.
My dad was much like Ralphie’s dad. At the time, I didn’t like him much, because he was very stern, but when I became a parent, I realized why he was that way. He would always wait until the day of Christmas Eve to buy our tree, because he could get a good deal on it. Then my sister and I would spend hours decorating it – filling in all the empty spaces with silver tinsel – under his watchful, critical eye.
I don’t think the classical literature compares to this kind of reality. So many times we see the poverty of people – the lack of money for gifts or special food – the sadness of the holiday. There are other times when we simply must enjoy the laughter, the fun, the excitement of this special time. The message of Christmas hasn’t changed down through the centuries, but the memories and traditions often do.
I give this movie five stars for stirring up some great nostalgia.