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A Christmas Story

"I want an official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle!"
"No, you'll shoot your eye out."

A recent immigrant from a non-Western country used to work in our office. One December day, a group of us were talking with her about films and old TV shows she could watch to become more familiar with American pop culture. On the subject of Christmas, we had one unanimous recommendation: A Christmas Story, the epic tale of Ralphie Parker's quest for the ultimate Christmas present.

A Christmas Story is a little boy's highly subjective vision of Christmas, narrated by the adult Ralphie and punctuated by vivid fantasy sequences.  The story takes place in northern Indiana, in December of 1940.  Out in the wider world, World War II is raging, but 9-year old Ralphie has more immediate concerns: doing his homework, dodging the yellow-eyed neighborhood bully, mastering cryptography with his Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Pin, and most important of all, convincing his parents to get him an official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time--even though his mother is opposed from the start because "You'll shoot your eye out."

In the days leading up to a family Christmas dinner of Peking Duck--don't worry, it makes sense in context--Ralphie is witness to a tense triple-dog-dare playground showdown, the depredations of the feral Bumpus Hounds, and the low-intensity conflict between his parents that became known forever in Cleveland Street lore as "The Battle of the Lamp."  Along the way, he has the misfortune of getting his mouth washed out with soap and getting an unwanted Christmas present aptly described as "a pink nightmare."

Simultaneously an homage to every nostalgic, heartwarming holiday special ever made, and a ruthless (but affectionate) deconstruction of every nostalgic, heartwarming holiday special ever made, A Christmas Story works so well because everything that happens to Ralphie and his family over the course of the story is something that happened to you when you were a kid, or one of the stories your parents or grandparents told about when they were kids.


Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Meanwhile, I struggled for exactly the right BB gun hint. It had to be firm, but subtle.
Ralphie: Flick says he saw some grizzly bears near Pulaski's candy store!
[everyone stares at Ralphie]
Ralphie as Adult: They looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.

"Oh no! It was the classic mother BB-gun block. 'You'll shoot your eye out!' That deadly phrase uttered many times by hundreds of mothers was not surmountable by any means known to Kid-dom, but such was my mania, my desire for a Red Ryder carbine, that I immediately began to rebuild the dike."

"Over the years I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference was for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor - heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness. Life Buoy, on the other hand..."

"Scott Farkus! What a rotten name! We were trapped. There he stood, between us and the alley. Scott Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes! So help me, God! Yellow eyes!"

Miss Shields: "Now I know that some of you put Flick up to this, but he has refused to say who. But those who did it know their blame, and I'm sure that the guilt you feel is far worse than any punishment you might receive. Now, don't you feel terrible? Don't you feel remorse for what you have done? Well, that's all I'm going to say about poor Flick."
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] "Adults loved to say things like that but kids knew better. We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught."


Though not a particular success at the box office on its release in 1983, A Christmas Story has, in the 35 years since, become one of the most beloved films of all time.  The house in Cleveland where much of it was filmed has been restored to its "1940" condition and is now a museum, and you can even order an official reproduction Leg Lamp and enjoy "the soft glow of electric sex" in the privacy of your own home. A Christmas Story has become so much a part of our pop culture's concept of Christmas that practically everyone on the North American continent over the age of two has seen it, loves it, and can quote it at length. If you are one of those unfortunate few who has somehow managed not to have seen it yet, I triple dog dare you to rent the DVD or the download. You'll thank me.

Four out of four official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifles (but only if they have a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time).

Baby M


  1. "In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenity that, as far as we know, is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan." That one's my favorite. It's hard not to love a movie that has lines like this.

    I met Scut Farkas! Zack Ward was in a season one episode of Lost and was at the Lost party I attended in 2005. I spent quite awhile talking with him. Hey, I don't get to name drop that often. :)


  2. "Randy lay there like a slug…it was his only defense." That line still gets me to chuckle every time I think of it.


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