I managed to surprise my husband recently when I casually admitted that I had never seen the movie “A Christmas Story.” As is his habit, he immediately set about continuing my cultural makeover — an essential part of my “Americanization,” according to him — and equally as important as the blue American passport I was granted two years ago.
I must admit that since watching this movie (which, confusingly, was made in the early 1980s to reflect the late 1940s) I can now understand pointed cultural references to “pink bunny suits” and “you’ll shoot your eye out.” On searching further, I have learned that Cleveland, Ohio, proudly offers the tourist attraction of “A Christmas Story” Museum, which features original props, costumes and memorabilia from the film, as well as hundreds of rare behind-the-scenes photos. Among the treasures there are the toys from the Higbee’s window, Randy’s snowsuit, the chalkboard from Miss Shields’ classroom and the family car. Even Ralphie’s house has been restored to its movie splendor and is open year-round to the public for tours. Best of all, you can also purchase your very own Major Award Leg Lamp. Read about the museum and do all your Christmas shopping next year at www.achristmasstoryhouse.com.
What makes a thing iconic? I suppose it is something — an image, a movie, a description — that is readily recognizable across a wide cultural group, and carries an element of emotional significance. An image of Marilyn Monroe with her dress blowing upwards, an Andy Warhol picture of tomato-soup cans, or a photo of the nation’s Capitol or the American flag is recognized by any American, and brings on some type of emotion — a smile, a recognition of weirdness, or a pang of patriotism, perhaps along with a tear.
So where did this silly little tale of a boy who desperately wanted a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas come from, and how did it become a part of the American psyche? It came from the mind of Jean Shepard from Hammond, Indiana, who went on to become a popular and mischievous New York City DJ and writer. The basis of the movie started from a short, autobiographical story Shepard published in — of all places — the December 1965 issue of Playboy Magazine. It was called “Red Ryder Nails the Hammond Kid.” The story’s warm humor and childhood innocence resonated with nostalgia for the millions of Americans who grew up in the 1940s and 50s, and perhaps longed for a return to that simpler time from the turbulent 1960s and 70s.
Converted to a screenplay, the movie was released just before Thanksgiving in 1983 to moderate success, but its’ popularity really started to take off when it first aired on television in 1985. Since 1997, when various Turner Broadcasting channels began 24-hour marathons of the movie starting on Christmas Eve every year, the ratings consistently have risen.
In 2012, “A Christmas Story” was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. “These films are … works of enduring importance to American culture,” Librarian of Congress James Billington said in a statement released at the time. “They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.” Yes, the film had become iconic in the hearts and minds of the American people.
However you celebrated, I certainly hope you had a very happy Christmas (as is said in “English” English), and also a very merry Christmas (as in “American” English). And happy New Year!
God bless America!
Email Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.lesleyfrancispr.com.