Marc Alan Fishman: A Hanukkah Story
I’m Jewish. Shocking, no? And as such, this time of year always bestows upon me (and my kin) an interesting level of ignorance to the festivities. While I did celebrate Christmas due to a family member (of goyish decent) throwing an annual party, we, the Jewish relatives, simply called it late Hanukkah and enjoyed the time together as I’m sure so many of you non-Jews do.
The interesting ignorance though, came from the obviously odd faux-nicety that spread throughout the land. Because of this, the one day seemingly all stores can close without ill-tidings, suddenly we’re all nice to one another? Not that I’m knocking it, mind you. But it always struck me odd that the celebration of the birth of the messiah (which historians all concluded wasn’t anywhere near December) could bring with it the notion that everyone should suddenly be nice. As I grew up, it became even odder as Christmas continues to lose any spiritual connection and becomes increasingly secular. Plus, it’s pretty easy to see Christians co-opted the Pagan Winter Solstice, just to be mean about it. But I digress.
One of the biggest conundrums that struck my many friends growing up was my definitive lack of love and fondness for holiday movies. Perhaps due to my overly-zealous mother telling me at a very early age that Santa wasn’t real and even if he was, he wouldn’t visit me anyways… I just never saw much reason to get doe-eyed for some Claymation classics. Home Alone? Sure, I loved that flick. But more because of the freedom I could see having myself should my parents just leave me be. As a revelatory cinema de festive though, nay I say.
When I met my wife, it was mid-January. Our first date hovered close to Valentine’s Day. We’d moved in together in the summer. By the time we’d made it to our first December, my love was all a’flutter putting up fake trees, hanging stockings, and gleefully prancing about our junior one-bedroom apartment because A Christmas Story was to be played 24 hours, non-stop, on basic cable. Near a year with my baby, and I’d no idea she swooned over such a throw-away flick. No sooner did she pirouette to the couch did I crush her spirit when I declared simply “… huh. Never saw that one. Looked boring though.”
Well, she’d have nothing of it! My ass was duck-taped to the couch, eyelids pried open with medical equipment (with the whole eye-dropper dealie above it, of course), and I was made to absorb the film whilst she creepily monitored my every reaction.
Oddly… I loved it. Loved every second of it. From the first establishing shots declaring a setting not unfamiliar to myself (a South Suburban Chicagoan knows well of Gary, IN), to the final scenes closing in on a Jewish tradition of Chinese Food (Which, honestly, I didn’t know was a thing)… here was yet another cinematic celebration of materialism, and familial love that I’d only seen dozens of times before. But unlike any other viewings, with this sleeper-of-a-film, I’d actually drawn an honest emotional connection.
Ralpie’s desire for that perfect toy, and how it permeated everything in and around his life was very close to my own greedy little-childhood. And just as he was defeated around every corner, I too, recalled many a Nintendo game left on the shelf, whilst I was dragged away in utter agony. Then, the fateful morning. Gift-wrapping strewn about. Gleeful chortles of a younger brother getting toy after toy. The inevitable gift of not-toys (shudder… clothing!). When all hope was lost, I felt for poor Ralphie now coming to grips with the end of his innocence (You can’t always get what you want… sayeth the philosopher Jagger I believe). It’s only then, when that maturity washes over Ralphie that the old man gets that glimmer in his eye. He steps over to a desk, and out from a hiding spot presents his son with one more gift. The return of hope. The rekindling of the spirit within. The damned toy he wanted… right there for him! And, yeah, he shoots his eye out, yadda yadda yadda.
A Christmas Story was for me the first holiday-centric media I’d consumed that did not ultimately declare itself worthless treacle in my eyes. It was a story rooted in innocence and reality, elevated not with effects or deus ex machina like Krampus and the like. It was a celebration of people taking that extra step to be kind to their kin and fellow man. Not because of spiritual necessity… but because of the desire to be better human beings if only for a short time before it be forgotten.
With that being said, I hope all of you enjoyed your winter celebrations. Be safe this New Years Eve, kiddos.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander
MONDAY: Mindy Newell