How many people saw this when it first played in the theater? How many people suspected that it would become a modern day staple of the holiday season? I did and I didn’t, in that order. Having replaced It’s A Wonderful Life as the ubiquitous Christmas movie A Christmas Story has lost its original charm. Like a television commercial that runs incessantly, the constant broadcasting of this film only irritate.
It also serves as a sad reminder of how our times have changes. It is no surprise that the selfless giving of George Bailey has been replaced by the selfish greed of Ralphie Parker. What hasn’t changed is our nostalgia for a more simple time. Placing a holiday story anywhere near our present day roots it too close to our egotistical, cynical, era where our presents are as wrapped up in paper as we our in ourselves. At the commercial breaks we are guaranteed that we won’t get the gifts we really want and that we should treat ourselves to those power tools and sport cars our loved ones are too Grinchy (a word now used as a synonym for practical) to get us. So, to appeal to our good, if not small hearts and the decency in each of us that knows the season is about more than what you receive, films like A Christmas Story are set in an idyllic past, most are too young to recall..
Of course, A Christmas Story has its figgy pudding and it eats it too. The story is wrapped in all the bucolic glow of Christmas past while little Ralphie pines for a present that will bring him supposed happiness. Friends and family, even teachers be damned, nothing should get between Raphie and his Red Ryder BB gun. He need do nothing to deserve such a gift. This level of entitlement and self-absorption is just the sort of film the 80’s were known for, but it took the wealth of the 90’s for its message to take hold and give birth to a new classic.
Still, the film has its charm and even a moment of pure grace. Its late in the film after most of the story has unfolded and little Ralphie has gotten his gun. Mom and Dad are down stairs, the tree is aglow, and the snow is beginning to fall. Music is playing in the background and for a brief moment there is no narration, no dialog, just a moment of calm, of great relief. It’s the sort of adult moment that is only understood once Christmas has stopped being a time of pure joy where the only responsibility is unwrapping presents, and it has turned into a grand spectacle that must be arrange and endured. For adults, Christmas is a production that starts with putting up the decorations and ends with the unwrapping of the presents. It’s late at night when all the presents are unwrapped and the Christmas dinner is well on its way to being digested when all pressure is off and the parents have moment to themselves before they start preparing for the next Christmas.