Based on Jean Shepherd’s radio broadcasts and collections of anecdotes, the 1983 Bob Clark film has earned an iconic place in the pantheon of Holiday classics, along with Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. A Christmas Story’s depiction of the dreams of a nine-year-old boy for his ideal Christmas present resonates profoundly in our collective unconscious. And like other Christmas classics, it stokes the fires of hope and yearning that we all feel welling up around the Holidays. Miracles are possible. People can transform. We can imagine a heroic self and become that imagination.
Regardless of our particular spiritual beliefs, we humans have, since the beginning of recorded history, created myths of hope around the winter solstice—especially in Northern climes where a real winter darkens the skies and nothing new grows. Ancient peoples, given their lack of understanding about the causes of seasons, were terrified that spring might not come, that no new planting season would be possible, that no new children would be born. And every culture is full of reassuring mythological explanations—like the Greeks with Persephone—of why the sun would soon stay up longer, green grass would peek through the snow, the songbirds return.
I think it’s safe to say that despite our thorough comprehension of the movement of the spheres, our decoding of the strands of DNA, or our understanding of subatomic particles, we are still basically helpless in the face of nature’s power to devastate us with fire, wind, rain or earthquake, still helpless to avoid a runway asteroid or the death of our sun—let alone helpless in the face of our own natures and our own capacity to devastate the earth and our fellow humans with hatred and greed.
Little has changed in our desperate need for hope in the darkest hours. Can we humbly admit that we are still helpless and ignorant? Can we put aside human arrogance and pray for light, understanding and hope? I think we must. And so we come together at this season in our empathy gym, to harness the power of storytelling to celebrate some simple things: the power of community, the heroic dreams of a boy, the steadfast love of a mother, the power of a father’s gift. A Christmas Story is our prayer that we can find our way through the dark times we live in, simply by stoking the fires of hope and celebrating the eternal.
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