My favorite thing about Christmas has always been the movies, and my favorite Christmas movie, hands down, is A Christmas Story. As anyone who has known me for more than five minutes probably knows, one of the main reasons is that it was written about my childhood hometown. Author Jean Shepherd also grew up in Hammond, Indiana and his book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash was the source material for A Christmas Story. His house was one block over from mine, his winters were my winters, and Warren G. Harding Elementary School – historic site of the infamous triple-dog-dare of yore – was my school. In some ways, watching this movie feels like a homecoming for me.
So when I heard earlier this year that they were making yet another follow-up to my cherished favorite, I was beyond skeptical; I outright dreaded it. Sequels have a bad reputation anyway, and all the other movies in the “Parker Family Saga” have been abysmal. What good could possibly come of this?
I took a risk and watched it anyway, and I couldn’t be more happy to be wrong. It was delightful. The new movie is called A Christmas Story Christmas, and most of the plot revolves around Ralphie (now Ralph) trying to fulfill both his dream of becoming a successful writer and living up to the legacy of his father’s Christmases. Hijinks ensue…and not a few tears as well.
My own mother passed away three summers ago, so the mix of emotions and memory overlaid with ambition and self-demand which Ralph navigates in the film resonated loudly for me. I’ve never thought of myself as trying to live up to any expectations in particular, but I sure do have a comprehensive list of things I expect to accomplish and include in my family’s Christmases, and wouldn’t you know it? Nearly every item on that list is a reflection of things my mom did for us each year.
Why? My family doesn’t expect it. Mom didn’t impose it on me. Where does the need to create and keep such a template come from?
So far I can think of three causes: nostalgia, grief, and joy. Nostalgia because anyone who has good childhood memories wants to rekindle the feelings they remember and wrap up in them like a warm blanket. Grief because “What is grief but love persevering?” and how better to keep our loved ones alive than by reliving the times and activities we shared? Joy, because simply put, these things still make my family and me happy. Family recipes, Christmas light drives, going to church, shopping endlessly for perfect gifts…I get all of them from my mom, and I find joy – and a piece of her – every time I do them.
On this day of all days, I am keenly aware that everything I’ve mentioned here can also be sour. Christmas can invoke bad childhood memories, negative stages of grief, and loneliness or depression for the people and things missing from our lives. Our lists can feature more Don’ts than Dos so as not to relive or repeat our pasts. Legacy can be a harsh pressure to live up to, and ambition to achieve certain appearances can suck the joy out of our traditions. Everything is not love and light for all of us all the time, even – or especially – at Christmas.
The good news that IS for everyone is: That’s okay. There’s no right or wrong way to feel or be in this or any season. We always have a responsibility for how we behave and how treat ourselves and each other, but we don’t have a responsibility to look or emote or celebrate in any certain way while we’re doing it. Whatever heals, whatever helps, whatever reminds you that Jesus loves you and God always keeps promises…those are all good and honorable ways to keep Christmas.
My mom taught me that.
1 c. (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. chopped macadamia nuts
2 c. flour
jam of choice (we prefer apricot, seedless berry, and sugar plum)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and powdered sugar; add flour and vanilla and mix well (until there are no crumbs). Roll or scoop dough into 1"-balls on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Press the center of each ball with your ring finger or pinky; fill the hole with jam (do not overfill or jam will bubble over when hot and stick to the pan). Bake for about 8 minutes or until just beginning to brown on the bottoms. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.