I can’t tell you the first time I watched it, and I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when this movie became a relic, a most-revered form of holiday entertainment in my family. I honestly believe at this point that I came out of the womb knowing its every line by heart, and that before I was even born my parents whispered to my developing form: “Ralphie, you’ll shoot your eye out.”
For those who lack the sophistication to understand the reference, I am speaking of a classic holiday film knowing simply as A Christmas Story. The premise is simple: a man recalls the time when, as a young boy, he wished for a toy gun for Christmas (more specifically, an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and that thing that tells time), and encountered a series of truly bizarre trials and tribulations to get it.
Such trials include, but are not limited to: a little boy with his tongue stuck to a flagpole, a larger-than-life leg lamp won as a “major award” in an unidentified contest, some of the scariest Christmas elves you’ll ever meet, the washing of one’s mouth out with soap, nasty school bullies, and a grotesque pink bunny costume. And of course, the most famous tribulation of them all, the major roadblock that Ralphie must overcome: the hauntingly repetitious warning of “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Sure, it sounds banal, but there’s something about this charming little holiday tale that has spurred my family on to absolute mania. Much like I can’t identify with certainty when I first experienced A Christmas Story, I can’t tell you when my family’s love for the film spiraled into pure, unadulterated obsession.
First, my dad found a leg lamp votive candle holder at Newbury Comics. One year, all of the men of the family received “You’ll shoot your eye out” boxer shorts as a gift (or maybe a sick joke) from my grandmother. Two years ago, we went to see a theatrical production of A Christmas Story at a local regional theater.
And of course, every year we gather around at the stroke of 8 o’clock on Christmas Eve as the 24-hour marathon of the movie begins. (That’s right—if you haven’t seen it yet, it’ll be on twelve times in a row. You have no excuse.)
But in the true spirit of the season, our family obsession with A Christmas Story is about people, not things. It’s not about the matching pajamas or the leg lamp sugar cookies or the little tubes of peppermint lip balm plastered with young Ralphie’s bespectacled mug, but the people who gather around year after year to share in them.
When the opening credits begin and the carolers sing, it warms my heart to know that Christmas is here once more. In this unpredictable world, there are few things we can always count on: Ralphie wishing for that official Red Ryder air rifle, A Christmas Story on TV at the stroke of 8 o’clock, and a crazy, lovable family to freak out about it with.