Revisiting A CHRISTMAS STORY - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace says fudge!

A Christmas Story is my family’s go-to Christmas movie; we watch it every few years, and every time I find something more to it. It’s a movie that has endured, I think, due to its overwhelming charm in how it encapsulates the experience of childlike wonder during that extraordinary holiday. On my most recent watch, I was in awe at how well it expressed feelings I had as a child in the 2000s, let alone in the 1930s when it is set.

A Christmas Story very much depends on an idealized interwar years, and uses a lot of the signifiers of that sort to give off its particular charm (it’s the same principle that underlies the first three Indiana Jones movies). The cars are sleek and elegant. The clothing is quite dapper by modern standards; Ralphie and Randy wear ties to the Christmas parade. Indeed, the whole spectacle of a Christmas parade feels quaintly old-fashioned today; the only place I’ve seen one was in my relatively sedate college town (which woke me up at eight in the morning as it passed by my dorm, but I thought it was quite pleasant even so). The music, too, creates that feel; we never see brass bands playing Christmas songs in the streets anymore (to my former concert band saxophonist mind’s great chagrin).

But flipping that script, so much of this film feels accurate even today. The notion of a child pining over a toy gun may feel weirdly old-fashioned (and very American to international viewers), but that yearning for the newest fashionable toy hasn’t ended. When I was Ralphie’s age, it was probably a Lego set (Star Wars or Bionicle). For a child any time in the past century or so, there’s a long wait from the end of November (in America, starting from the day after Thanksgiving, a day turned into a spectacle of a sort that makes me want to apologize for being American to those in the other countries it has been foisted upon) to the big day, when Santa Claus comes barrelling down the chimney bringing gifts (Saint Nicholas was a Greek, but hopefully we needn’t be wary of him). We would wait for school to be let out and the beginning of the long winter break and sometimes the travel to see family (for me, usually New York or Tampa), and for that glorious day with the sparkling presents under the tree.

Upon my latest watch (the very day of writing), what struck me the most was the narration, provided by Jean Shepherd, the man who wrote the book that A Christmas Story is based on. He speaks as if he is a child, but with the eloquence of an adult writer. His voice and his words give the child-centric events, whether it’s getting a new BB gun or sitting in Santa Claus’ lap at a mall or swearing in front of your strict father, the gravitas that we as children imbue our ultimately petty causes. To adults, seeing a classmate get his tongue stuck to a tree may be funny or somewhat maudlin, but to a child it is the most serious thing in the world. Shepherd remembers that, when so many of us have forgotten it.

A Christmas Story is quite funny; its humor comes from earnest love of the Christmas season and from an honest appreciation of the strangeness of childhood. We all had a Scut Farkus to deal with, one way or another (I had several in elementary school). We have all been disappointed by the corporate nature of the companies that make the media we love (although I don’t think they’re usually quite as brazen as Ovaltine was here). We have all had dinners ruined due to unforeseen circumstances and had to improvise (although hopefully without making racist jokes in the process; that bit is the one severely disappointing part in an otherwise sterling movie).

This film shows what Christmas should be; happy families and cheerful gathering, with joy to the world and good will to all. It should be the singing of choirs and the sonorous sound of horns and the ringing of bells. It should be that joy and that wonder that we remember feeling so viscerally as children. It’s a blissful season, and A Christmas Story gets that across more than any other I’ve seen.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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