Why Boomers Love “A Christmas Story”

We may have grown up watching “A Christmas Carol” in glorious black and white — both the 1938 version and the Alistair Sims 1951 version — but the Dickensonian milieu of the movie is not what boomers associate with their Christmases. For that, we prefer “A Christmas Story.” In fact, we love it.

The film, released in 1983, tells the story of Ralphie (played by Peter Billingsley) and his family at Christmas time, and how he got the gift he really wanted: a Red Ryder BB gun. Many people don’t know that the movie is actually a conglomeration of several short stories by humorist Jean Shepherd. Many boomers will recall listening to Jean Shepherd on the radio, which may be a contributing factor to our nostalgic enjoyment.

Mister Boomer’s theory of why the movie is tops with boomers is a simple one: the movie accurately portrays our early lives, especially those of us raised in the Upper Midwest. Though the movie takes place around 1940, much of the scenarios were customary in the fifties and early sixties, too. For instance:

Snow at Christmas
About two-thirds of the country experiences seasonal changes, including some snowfall. For us Midwestern boomers, though, it was more common to have snow at Christmas than not to have it.

Snow Suits
We laugh hysterically at Ralphie’s little brother in his snow suit. Ralphie’s mother (played by Melinda Dillon) dressed his little brother for the winter elements, wrapping him in so many thick layers (it was decades before lightweight, warm, synthetic fabrics) that by the time his one-piece snow suit was fitted over him he could no longer lower his arms. When he falls in the snow and can’t get up (actually, he was pushed, as the video reveals), it’s a “been there, done that” moment for many of us.

Dangerous Toys
Ralphie wants a BB gun for Christmas, but first his mother, then his teacher tell him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Thinking Santa would be on his side, he finally reveals to the not-so-jolly department store Santa his object of gift desire. Santa’s response was like the other grown-ups in his life: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Against the better judgment of the women and Santa, Ralphie’s dad (Darren McGavin) bought him the gun.

Most of us recall receiving all sorts of potential eye-shooter-outers at Christmas. Guns, bows and arrows, projectile-shooting robots and missile launchers that would be taboo today made their way to under the tree for boomer boys. Girls had to settle for choking hazards from doll accessories, tea sets and miniature everything. They seemed to be prone to only throwing things in anger rather than as a matter of course.

A Handyman Dad
Boomers grew up in a time when men were supposed to fix things around the house. The truth of the matter is, though, many men weren’t all that handy. Ralphie’s dad fell into that category. When the overloaded electrical socket blew a fuse, or the furnace was “on the fritz,” his dad trudged down to the basement. There, the family could hear him through the heat registers, clanging pipes and swearing profusely.

The Behemoth Furnace
Though the furnace is never shown in the movie, boomers can picture it exactly. There is no doubt it was a behemoth octopus of a contraption, with many arms reaching out to the different rooms of the house through the basement ceiling. As portrayed in the movie by the black soot blown through the registers, it was powered by coal. Many of us boomers played in the coal bins of our family’s or relatives’ basements, even after the coal furnaces were retro-fitted for natural gas.

The Department Store Santa
Boomers recall that many stores had Santas available for visits, but it was understood that the main department store in the area had the “real” one. As was the case with Ralphie, many boomers recall freezing up in the presence of the Jolly One, sometimes even becoming paralyzed with fear and driven to tears.

Restaurants On Christmas
When the neighbor’s dogs break into the house and attack the Parker family’s Christmas turkey, they were left with no choice but to go out to dinner. Boomers recall that when we were growing up, Christmas dinner was strictly a family affair. Restaurants were not open on Christmas Day. The movie accurately portrays the only area restaurant open was a Chinese restaurant, and it was empty when they walked in.

Homemade or “Useful” Gifts
Come Christmas morning, Ralphie and his brother opened gifts, quickly passing by the socks and pajamas to get to the good stuff. Ralphie had the misfortune of receiving a pink bunny rabbit suit from his aunt. His mother insisted he try it on, which he did reluctantly. Standing at the top of the stairs, his mother found him adorable, while his father recognized his humiliation.

Many of us recall aunts or grandmothers who knitted or sewed outrageous sweaters, vests, hats and mittens. And many of us were forced to wear the items, if only in the presence of the gifter.

Neighborhood or Schoolyard Bullies
In our day, every neighborhood had groups of kids that hung out together, but in every neighborhood and schoolyard, there were bullies. Fed up with getting pelted with snowballs and taunts, Ralphie went ballistic on his bully, giving the boy a bloody nose and making him cry. For many of us, that was a boomer vicarious thrill.

Boomer Mouthwash
When Ralphie lets loose the F-bomb in front of his mother, she shoves a bar of soap in his mouth. Nowadays a parent might get some unwanted legal trouble for this type of discipline, but boomers will recall that punishment as the norm for uttering “dirty words.”

In the end, the Parker family had a good, yet far from a Norman Rockwell, Hallmark kind of Christmas. That turns out to be another thing we boomers can identify with in the film. Mister Boomer knows other boomers who can recite swaths of dialogue from the movie. If by some crazy circumstance you’ve missed it on TV these past few years, pick up the DVD. It’s a fun trip down Christmas memory lane.

What’s your favorite Christmas movie, boomers?

TV Education for Preschool Boomers: Ding Dong School vs. Romper Room

Before there was a Big Bird or Mister Rogers, and even before there was a Captain Kangaroo, there was Miss Frances. As the very first generation born after the War was growing, right along with television, many felt the medium could become a great tool for education. Indeed, networks were charged with acting in the public good, and educational programming’s time had come. Dr. Frances Horwath, a life-long educator, saw the need and originated the preschool children’s program, Miss Frances’ Ding Dong School, in Chicago in the early 1950s. It quickly gained in popularity and by 1952 was broadcast nationwide, Monday through Friday on NBC. The show’s run continued through 1956, when it was replaced by The Price Is Right. Owning the rights to the program, Dr. Horwath continued the show in syndication until 1965.

She is said to have originated many aspects of children’s TV programming that are now taken for granted, especially speaking directly to children through the screen as if they were present in the studio. NBC made her the head of children’s TV programming in 1954. There she was known for her uncompromising spirit for education and children, refusing to air any commercial that advertised a product a child could not use, or that in her estimation glorified violence. Ultimately she resigned her post over clashes with the network.


Yes, there was a time when age and looks wasn’t a major consideration for being a television host. But as you watch this amazing clip, if there is anyone out there who has actually made or eaten one of these sandwiches, Mister Boomer would love to hear about it!

Mister Boomer does have some recollection of watching Miss Frances. As part of the second wave of boomers, he came of preschool age right about the time the show ended its national broadcast run. His brother would have watched the show, so it was most definitely on in the Mister Boomer household. What creates a bigger memory for Mister Boomer is Romper Room, a program that was a competitor for a while, but could be called a direct descendant of Ding Dong School. It ran from 1953 to 1994 in one form or another, and is poised for a return to the airwaves for a new generation.

The show had a group of kids in attendance as the hostess of the show pretty much ran a kindergarten class of games, exercises and songs. (If Bend and stretch/Reach for the sky/Stand on tippy toes oh so high stays with you the rest of the day, don’t blame Mister Boomer.) Each episode pushed the prevailing themes of Eisenhower America at the time, starting with the Pledge of Allegiance, which had just added the phrase, “under God,” in 1954. When cookies and milk were served, first the hostess would have the children say a prayer. Continuing as a preschool indoctrinator and national moral compass, each show had a list of “do-bee” behavioral tips for children, as well as a “don’t-bee” list. Live characters in bee costumes represented Mr. Do-Bee and Mr. Don’t-Bee.

Mister Boomer has a family connection to the show that was broadcast in his area; his cousin appeared on TV with the group of children for one week. Though broadcast nationally, the show was also syndicated — that allowed affiliates the option of running their own telecasts. As a result, several women played the part of the hostess, all taking on the salutatory title of “Miss.” Nationally, the hostess was Miss Nancy. In one particularly memorable episode for Mister B’s family, the teacher/hostess (her name at his local affiliate at the time escapes Mister Boomer), showed pictures and talked to the children about the difference between camels and dromedaries. “The dromedary is fast, isn’t he?” she asked rhetorically. Mister B’s cousin raised his hand and she called on him. “Not as fast as our station wagon,” intoned Mister B’s cousin. It’s a story that still makes the rounds at family gatherings.

At the end of each episode, the hostess would grab the “Magic Mirror,” which was more of a spinning fan than a mirror. Looking “through” it, she gazed out to the TV audience to name several children who had viewed the program and presumably had fun that day. Many children thought she did actually see them when she said their first names. The TV station encouraged children to send in their first names so the hostess could recite a list at the end of each show.

How about it, boomers? Do either of these programs elicit good or bad memories for you?