Without a doubt, A Christmas Story is one of my top three all time favorite Christmas films (and in my top ten all-time favorites). It just might be number one for me, depending on my mood.
Written by Jean Shepherd, this classic story features a young boy’s journey through Christmastime with his midwestern American family. The movie is chock full of innocent ideals, youthful bliss, and even a few scary moments of embarrassment – all told from the point of view of a now grown-up Ralphie Parker. Shepherd himself narrates the film, and his storytelling is nothing short of brilliant, as he captures the nine-year-old child’s point-of-view, remembering times from his youth, told with an older adult’s wisdom. A Christmas Story is, for me, an annual pilgrimage through nostalgia, goofy humor, and Christmas cheer. It is everything I want in a fun, festive, feel good movie. And I love it a little bit more each and every year.
As a Christmas gift, I would like to share – in roughly chronological order – my favorite moments from the film. Enjoy!
“Put your arms down when you get to school.” – Oh, the trials of being a small kid on a frigid midwestern America morning. The daily grind of getting dressed (and later undressed) can seem like an hour and a half to a little kid. Time flows different in the mind of a child.
Peer pressure can be a terrifying thing. When Ralphie’s friends Flick and Schwartz discuss the physics of a warm wet tongue sticking to a frozen metal flagpole, you know a dare is about to happen. This scene always has me crawling on my seat. To Flick’s credit, he never sold out either of his friends when the police and fire came to detach him from the pole. Friendship and loyalty that strong are not easy to find.
While Ralphie is the star of the movie, Darren McGavin’s “Old Man” character is a favorite of mine. He’s so prickly around the edges, with a temper that could burst any moment, much like the furnace he’s always fighting with. But on the inside, he’s a kid at heart, and we witness that in this scene where he is over the moon excited about whatever is in the box marked “Fra-gee-lee” (it must be Italian). The illuminated burlesque-style leg lamp that is his prize for crossword puzzle prowess, leads to a hilarious sequence of cat-and-mouse battles between mom and dad, and it one of the highlights of the film. Their opposite perspectives of this “major award” and how they each play their part, are spot on.
This is one of several daydream sequences that illustrate Ralphie’s take on the situation at hand. This follows his slip up, using the F-dash-dash-dash word in front of his old man. Hey, it happens to all of us. But from Ralphie’s point of view, Mom turned out to be the bad guy in this situation, poisoning him with a mouth full of red Lifebuoy soap. In his daydream, Ralphie returns home, blinded with the glory that is his parents’ collective regret over their ill-fated decision. Daydreams like this are how children think things through. I remember countless concoctions I made up in my own head, of the glories I might have “if the situation ever arose.” This hits home for me.
There are few things in life more satisfying than seeing the underdog win. Ralphie was the ultimate underdog in his confrontation with the notorious Scott Farkus – a textbook villain figure to many a nine-year-old boy. Not only does Ralphie hold his own, he wins the fight! And while he had many choice words to say to Scott during their fight, Ralphie’s mother intervenes, removes him from the situation, takes him home, and downplays the whole thing from the Old Man at dinner. Bonus points for mom! This is a life moment, if ever there was one for Ralpihe. He just realized he’s much stronger than he thought he was, and his confidence just increased tenfold.
This is the most recognizable and quoted line from the film. Poor Ralphie is getting outmaneuvered at every turn by the gods who don’t want him to have his “official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle.” This time, his adversary is none other than Santa himself. But hey, at least he’ll get some Tinker Toys. Keep trying Ralphie, you’ve still got a few days left ‘til Christmas.
Who else in the room has one of those aunts or grandmothers who unendingly makes or gives you something you just don’t like – year after year after year? For me, it was a Baracuda jacket – I think I got one from my grandmother 6 or 7 years in a row. You have to give Ralphie’s Aunt Clara an A for effort for her creative pink bunny pajamas (though Ralphie may disagree). Oh, if I could be a fly on the wall on the day Aunt Clara comes to visit and Ralphie has to wear the pajamas…
This is not as much a quotable line, as it is a meaningful one. Throughout the film, the Old Man was viewed as rough and edgy – someone you don’t want to mess with. But here, at the very last moment of Christmas morning, when Ralphie had given up hope on ever getting his Red Ryder BB Gun, it’s his Old Man – not his mom, not Santa – who comes through big time. It’s a classic father-son moment. Since this was an unauthorized gift from the Old Man to Ralphie, he had to explain it to mom that he had one when he was eight years old (but notice that it’s still mom who Ralphie asks if he can go outside and try it out!).
Now this is just downright funny. One of the comical sub-threads of the film is the Old Man’s ongoing duel with the neighboring “785 smelly hound dogs.” While he clipped the tail of one of them in the front door earlier in the film, the hounds got the last laugh – sneaking into the house through an open door (left open by Ralphie after he “shot his eye out”) and stripping that poor Thanksgiving turkey down to the bones, leaving nothing but one lonely wing. Incensed by the scene he had just witnessed, the Old Man shouts toward his neighbors with all his might, using a piercing tone that can only come from uncontrolled rage.
After the Bumpus dogs left nothing but turkey bones in their wake, the Old Man declares “we are going out to eat.” Queue the local Chinese restaurant – one of the few places open on Christmas Day. Following a rousing rendition of Deck the Halls by the serving staff (“Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra, Ra Ra Ra Ra”), “Chinese turkey” (roast duck) arrives at the table. The presentation of the meal looks a bit foreign to the Parkers, but that’s nothing a quick swipe with a meat cleaver can’t fix. The Parker family has adapted to the changing conditions of this unorthodox Christmas Day, and maybe even started a new Christmas tradition.
Amen to that.
For my fellow Disney fans, here’s a bit of trivia. Did you know Mickey Mouse makes a brief appearance in the film? You can spy him marching in the town Christmas parade, among several of Dorothy’s friends from The Wizard of Oz.
Have you every visited Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom? If so, you may have heard a familiar voice. The father in the attraction, formally named John, is voiced by none other than Jean Shepherd himself.
I hope you have enjoyed this trip through Ralphie’s world. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours, and a Happy New Year too!