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This article is about the 1983 movie. For other specials with the same title, see A Christmas Story (disambiguation).
A Christmas Story is a 1983 American/Canadian comedy film based on the short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes of author and raconteur Jean Shepherd, including material from his books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories. Directed by Bob Clark, the film has since become a holiday classic and is known for being shown numerous times on television during the Christmas season. In 2012, the Library of Congress recognized the film and was chosen for preservation into its National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."
The film is set in the fictional city of Hohman (based on real-life city of Hammond, Indiana). 9-year-old Ralph "Ralphie" Parker wants only one thing for Christmas: "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time." Between run-ins with his younger brother Randy and having to handle school bully Scut Farkus, and his sidekick Grover Dill, Ralphie does not know how he will ever survive long enough to get the BB gun for Christmas.
The plot revolves around Ralphie's overcoming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to his owning the precious Red Ryder BB gun: the fear that he will shoot his eye out (the classic BB gun mother's block, "You'll shoot your eye out.") In each of the film's three acts, Ralphie makes his case to another individual; each time he is met by the same retort. When Ralphie asks his mother for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, she says, "No, you'll shoot your eye out." Next, when Ralphie writes a theme about wanting the BB gun for Mrs. Shields, his teacher at Warren G. Harding Elementary School, Ralphie gets a C+, and Mrs. Shields writes "P.S. You'll shoot your eye out" on it. Finally, when Ralphie asks an obnoxious department store Santa Claus for a Red Ryder BB gun, he responds, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid. Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho!", before pushing Ralphie down a long slide with his boot.
One day after he gets the C+ on his composition, Ralphie is struck in the face with a snowball thrown at him by the bully Scut Farkus who then begins to tease and taunt Ralphie. Ralphie finally reaches his breaking point and then charges at Farkus knocking him down, and after knocking down Grover Dill, who tries to intervene for his pal, proceeds to beat Scut's face bloody. During the fight, Ralphie begins to swear non-stop as he lands blow after blow to the squealing Farkus. Ralphie's mother shows up and pulls her son off the bully, and takes him home. This part of the film occurs shortly after a scene where Ralphie gets into trouble for swearing while helping his father fix a flat tire. Ralphie is worried about the swearing and is sure he will be in big trouble when his father gets home from work. Instead, Ralphie's mother tells his father about the fight casually at the dinner table. She then changes the subject of the conversation to an upcoming Chicago Bears game, distracting his father and getting Ralphie off the hook in the process.
On Christmas morning, Ralphie looks frantically for a box that would hold the BB gun to no avail. He and his brother have quite a few presents, but he is disappointed because he did not get the gun. His disappointment turns to joy as his father points out one last half-hidden present, ostensibly from Santa. As Ralphie unwraps the BB gun, Mr. Parker explains the purchase to his none-too-thrilled wife, stating that he had one himself when he was 8 years old.
Ralphie goes out to test his new gun, shooting at a paper target perched on top of a metal sign, and predictably gets a ricochet from the metal sign. This ricochet ends up hitting just below his eye, which causes him to flinch and lose his glasses. While searching for the glasses, Ralphie ends up stepping on them, breaking them. However, he concocts a story to his mother about an icicle falling on him and breaking his glasses, which she believes. Suddenly, a horde of the next door neighbor's dogs, which frequently bother Ralphie's father, manages to get into the house, trash the kitchen and eat the turkey that was prepared for that evening's meal. Making a last-minute decision, Ralphie's father takes everyone out to a Chinese restaurant where they have a hilarious time eating what the narrator calls "Chinese Turkey" (in reality, Peking Duck, cooked complete with the head).
At the end of the story, we see Ralphie lying in bed on Christmas night with his gun by his side. Randy is holding the toy zeppelin he received. The voiceover states that this was the best present he received or would ever receive.
Several subplots are incorporated in the body of the film, based on other separate short stories by Shepherd. The most notable involves the Old Man winning a "major award." He entered a trivia contest out of the newspaper, which asked for the name of The Lone Ranger's nephew's horse (thanks to his wife, who supplied the answer: Victor). A large crate arrived and inside was a lamp shaped like a woman's leg wearing fishnet stockings, much to Mrs. Parker's displeasure. Just two days later, Mrs. Parker broke the lamp, infuriating the Old Man. The leg was the logo of the contest's sponsor, the Nehi bottling company (the details of the contest were not necessarily made clear in the movie).
Other vignettes include:
- Ralphie's friends Flick and Schwartz disputing over whether a person's tongue will stick to a frozen flagpole. Schwartz ultimately issues Flick a "triple dog dare" (the most serious of those used by the kids), and Flick's tongue gets stuck to the pole, much to his terror. A suction tube within the flagpole was used to simulate the freezing of Flick's tongue to the pole.
- Ralphie receiving his Secret Society decoder pin from the Little Orphan Annie radio show. After weeks of anxious waiting, and missing out on the daily "secret message" (which to a kid appeared very important) Ralphie finally is able to participate. *However, he learns a lesson in being ripped off, as the secret message turned out to be an Ovaltine radio commercial.
- Ralphie and his friends dealing with the neighborhood bully, Scotty Farkus (Zack Ward).
- The Old Man's legendary battles with the aging and malfunctioning furnace.
- Ralphie letting slip the dreaded "Queen Mother of Dirty Words", the "F-dash-dash-dash word" (censored with the word "Fudge" after his father knocks a hubcap from his hands, spilling its contents, the lug nuts from a flat tire) and later, when asked where he'd heard the bad word, falsely blaming his friend, Schwartz, and not pointing out that his father utters the word daily. After Ralphie's mother telephones Schwartz's mother to inform her that her son had been responsible for passing along the bad word to Ralphie, we hear Schwartz getting what appears to be the thrashing of his life at the hands of his hysterical mother. Ralphie himself gets a bar of soap in the mouth for saying the word. To keep it censored, Billingsly says "fudge" on camera (the narration points out that he really didn't say "fudge").
- The numerous smelly and bothersome bloodhounds of the next door neighbors, the Bumpuses, including the dogs destroying the Christmas turkey (prompting the family to go out and have Peking duck instead, resulting in a giggling fit by the mother and the boys).
- Several fantasy sequences depict Ralphie's daydreams of glory and vindication, including the vanquishing of a small army of villains dressed in stereotypical burglar costume of flat caps, black masks and striped shirts with his Red Ryder BB gun obtaining his parents' gratitude, an extremely good grade for his written theme about the BB gun, and parental remorse over a case of "soap poisoning" (related to his cursing).
- Mrs. Parker's misadventures in overly bundling Randy up for the winter weather by wrapping him in sweaters and a jacket so tightly he is unable to put his arms down, then Randy getting inadvertently knocked down and unable to get up under his own power (his only defense when they are confronted by Scotty Farkus.)
- Randy's refusal to eat a meal on his own incites hilarity between him and his mother at the dinner table.
|Peter Billingsley||Ralphie Parker|
|Jean Shepherd||Adult Ralphie (The Narrator)|
|Darren McGavin||Mr. Parker (The Old Man)|
|Melinda Dillon||Mrs. Parker|
|Ian Petrella||Randy Parker|
|R. D. Robb||Schwartz|
|Zack Ward||Scut Farkus|
|Yano Anaya||Grover Dill|
|Tedde Moore||Miss Shields|
|Jeff Gillen||Santa Claus|
|David Svoboda||Botox Boy|
|Drew Hocevar||One of the Two Christmas Elves|
In the DVD commentary, director Bob Clark mentions that Jack Nicholson was considered for the role of the Old Man; Clark expresses gratitude that he ended up with Darren McGavin instead, who also appeared in several other Clark films. He cast Melinda Dillon on the basis of her similar role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Peter Billingsley was already a minor star from co-hosting the TV series Real People; Clark initially wanted him for the role of Ralphie, but decided he was "too obvious" a choice and auditioned many other young actors before realizing that Billingsley was the right one after all. Ian Petrella was cast immediately before filming began. Tedde Moore had previously appeared in Clark's film Murder by Decree, and Jeff Gillen was an old friend of Clark's who had been in one of his earliest films.
Shepherd provides the movie's narration from the perspective of an adult Ralphie, a narrative style later used in the dramedy The Wonder Years. The film's writers, Jean Shepherd and Bob Clark. have cameo appearances in the film; Shepherd plays the man who directed Ralphie and Randy to the back of the Santa line, and Clark plays Swede, the neighbor the Old Man was talking to outside during the Leg Lamp scene.
Three of the semi-autobiographical short stories on which the film is based were originally published in Playboy magazine between 1964 and 1966. Shepherd later read "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder nails the Cleveland Street Kid" and told the otherwise unpublished story "Flick's Tongue" on his WOR Radio talk show, as can be heard in one of the DVD extras. Bob Clark states on the DVD commentary that he became interested in Shepherd's work when he heard "Flick's Tongue" on the radio in 1968. Additional source material for the film, according to Clark, came from unpublished anecdotes Shepherd told live audiences "on the college circuit."
Initially overlooked as a sleeper film, A Christmas Story was released a week before Thanksgiving 1983 to moderate success, earning about $2 million in its first weekend. Critics were severely divided on the film, with the majority of reviews on the negative side. Leonard Maltin proclaimed it a "Top screen comedy," while Roger Ebert proclaimed it "Funny and satirical ... a sort of Norman Rockwell crossed with MAD magazine. Vincent Canby's mostly negative New York Times review echoed the more common response. Critics seemed focused on the fact that Bob Clark, director of the critically reviled Porky's was the man behind the camera, and could not grasp the concept of Clark coming up with an instant classic like A Christmas Story The film would go on to win two Genie Awards, for Bob Clark's screenplay and direction. Years later, Ebert would re-evaluate the film, this time more favorably, writing that "some of the movie sequences stand as classic."
By Christmas 1983, the film was no longer playing at most venues, but remained in about a hundred theaters until January 1984. Gross earnings were just over $19.2 million. In the years since, due to television airings and home video release, A Christmas Story has become widely popular and is now a perennial Christmas special. Originally released by MGM, Warner Bros. (through Turner Entertainment Co.) now has ownership of the film due to Ted Turner's purchase of MGM's pre-1986 library and Time Warner's subsequent purchase of Turner Entertainment.
A Christmas Story first aired on television on HBO during the mid-eighties and quickly attracted a growing following. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the film began airing quietly on then-SuperStation WTBS and WGN America (then known as Superstation WGN). From 1988 to 1992, the film had a short-lived tradition of airing on the American Thanksgiving night (or the night after Thanksgiving) to open the holiday television season. In 1988, then-fledgling FOX network aired the movie the night after Thanksgiving. In 1989 and 1990, TBS showed it on Thanksgiving night, and in 1991 and 1992, they aired it the night after.
Turner, now a part of Time Warner's umbrella of cable networks, has maintained ownership of the broadcast rights, and since the mid-1990s, airing the movie increasingly on TBS, TNT and TCM. By 1995, it was aired on those networks a combined six times over December 24-25-26, and in 1996, it was aired eight times over those three days.
Due to the increasing popularity of the film, in 1997, TNT began airing a 24-hour marathon dubbed "24 Hours of A Christmas Story," consisting of the film shown twelve consecutive times beginning at 7 or 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve and ending Christmas Day. This was in addition to various other airings earlier in the month of December. In 2004, after TNT switched to a predominantly drama format, sister network TBS, under its comedy-based "Very Funny" moniker, took over the broadcast rights for the marathon. Clark stated that in 2002, an estimated 38.4 million people tuned into the marathon at one point or another, nearly one sixth of the country. TBS reported 45.4 million viewers in 2005, and 45.5 million in 2006. In 2007, new all-time ratings records were set, with the highest single showing (8 p.m. Christmas Eve) drawing 4.4 million viewers. Viewership increased again in 2008, with 8 p.m. Christmas Eve drawing 4.5 million viewers, and 10 p.m. drawing 4.3 million.
In 2007, the original tradition was revived as TNT aired A Christmas Story twice the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend (November 25). In 2011, the 24-hour marathon is scheduled to continue on TBS, for the 15th overall year, starting at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on Christmas Eve.
Home video releases
The movie is set in a fictional town in Indiana, strongly resembling Hammond, Indiana where writer Jean Shepherd grew up. Local references in the film include Warren G. Harding Elementary School, and Cleveland Street (where Shepherd spent his childhood years). Other Indiana references in the dialogue include a mention of a person "swallowing a yo-yo" in nearby Griffith, Indiana, the Old Man being one of the fiercest "furnace fighters in northern Indiana" and that his obscenities were "hanging in space over Lake Michigan," a mention of the Indianapolis 500, and the line to Santa Claus "stretching all the way to Terre Haute." The Old Man is also revealed to be a fan of the Bears (who he jokingly calls the "Chicago Chipmunks") and White Sox, consistent with living in northwest Indiana.
The school scenes were shot at the Victoria School in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. The school was sold to developers in 2005 and has been remodeled into a women's shelter. The Christmas tree purchasing scene was filmed in Toronto, Ontario, as it was the only location that still used red PCC streetcars - in fact, TTC streetcars can be seen during the scene. Ralphie beating up the neighborhood bully was also filmed in Toronto, as was the soundstage filming of interior shots of the Parker home. The St. Catharines' Museum owns some props used in the film, including two pairs of Ralphie's glasses (one of which is the smashed pair), and two scripts.
Director Bob Clark reportedly sent location scouts to twenty cities before selecting Cleveland, Ohio, as the principal site for filming. Higbee's department store in downtown Cleveland was the stage for three scenes in A Christmas Story. The first is the opening scene in which Ralphie first spies the Red Ryder BB Gun. The second is the parade scene, filmed just outside Higbee's, on Public Square, at 3 AM. The final scene is Ralphie and Randy’s visit to see Santa which was filmed inside Higbee's. Higbee's kept the Santa slide that was made for the movie and used it for several years after the movie’s release. Higbee's was known for decades as a cornerstone of Public Square, as well as for its elaborate child-centered Christmas themes and decorations (e.g. the Twigbee Shop), with Santa as the centerpiece, until the store, which became Dillard's in 1992, closed for good in 2002. Higbee's was exclusive to Northeast Ohio—there were no Higbee's stores in Shepherd's hometown. As such, he was most likely referring to Goldblatts in downtown Hammond (with the Cam-Lan Chinese Restaurant three doors down on Sibley Ave.) The parade was filmed at night for one reason. The producers wanted to film during day, but at this time, the BP Tower was under construction and during the daytime you could see the 1960s Erieview Tower and Federal Building from the Public Square.
The exterior shots (and select interior shots, including the opening of the leg lamp) of the house and neighborhood where Ralphie lived were filmed in the Tremont section of Cleveland's West Side. The house used as the Parker home in these scenes has been restored, reconfigured inside to match the soundstage interiors, and opened to the public as A Christmas Story House. The "...only I didn't say fudge" scene was filmed at the foot of Cherry Street in Toronto.
In 2008, two fans from Canada released a fan film documentary that visits every location used in the movie. Their film, Road Trip for Ralphie, was shot over two years and includes footage of the film makers saving Miss Shields's black board from the dumpster on the day the old Victoria School was gutted for renovation, discovering the antique fire truck that saved Flick, locating all the original costumes from the movie and tracking down the real-life location of the movie's Chop Suey Palace in Toronto.
Many years after the film was shot one of the old schools used in St. Catharines was demolished. During demolition, one of the movie scripts was found in the bleachers. It had scribbling on it from the directors.
Cleveland car buffs donated the use of a number of vintage vehicles for the film, which helped to enhance the authenticity of the production despite a limited budget. During filming in downtown Cleveland, members of a local antique automobile club, following a preset route, repeatedly circled the square. At the end of filming each day, the cars were thoroughly washed to remove road salt, and parked underground beneath the Terminal Tower.
The Parker family car was a 1937 Oldsmobile Model F-37 four-door trunkback sedan. It is made clear early on the Old Man's bittersweet relationship with his car, as revealed in the lines: "Some men are Baptist, others Catholic; my father was an Oldsmobile man;" "That hot damn Olds has froze up again;" "That [SOB] would freeze up in the middle of summer on the equator!".
Transit fans will notice several Toronto pcc streetcars in a couple scenes.
Ralphie's Red Ryder BB Gun
The Red Ryder BB gun was available beginning in 1938 and for many years afterward (and indeed, still is), but never in the exact configuration mentioned in the film. The Daisy "Buck Jones" model did have a compass and a sundial in the stock, but these features were not included in the Red Ryder model. The compass and sundial were placed on Ralphie's BB gun but on the opposite side of the stock due to Billingsly being left-handed.
Tributes and parodies
- In a segment produced for A Very Cartoon Cartoon Fridays Holiday Special, Dexter dares Johnny Bravo to stick his tongue on the TV monitors behind them, because Johnny thinks his tongue will not stick to them. In another segment of the broadcast, Chicken complains that he did not get the BB gun that he wanted, to which everyone replies, "You'll shoot your eye out!"
- At the beginning of The Powerpuff Girls Christmas special, 'Twas the Fight Before Christmas, Buttercup worries that she will not get an official Red Raider carbine-action two-hundred-shot range-model air rifle. Princess Morbucks responds, "Who would want a stupid old BB gun? Besides, you'll shoot your eye out."
- In the Back at the Barnyard Christmas episode, It's an Udderful Life, Eugene "Snotty Boy" Beadie wants a Red Ryder Reindeer Tazer as his Christmas gift.
- Ralphie and the kid with goggles make a cameo in Grace Goodwin's flashback in Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice.
Dating the story
Director Bob Clark stated in the film's commentary CD that he and author Shepherd wished for the movie to be seen as "amorphously late 30's, early 40's." The film is not specifically about a given year, it is about a particular time in American family life. The film appears to be set roughly around the tail end of the Great Depression but before the United States involvement in World War II. There are references throughout the film that viewers enjoy linking to particular years, and if one connects a reference to a particular year, the movie can be "dated" as being as early as 1935 or as late as 1947. Some of the other "year clues" include - but are by no means limited to - the following:
- 1935: In the scene where Ralphie and his friends peer into the Higbee's toy store window, Lionel's model of the Union Pacific M-10000 can be seen running around a loop of track. That model was made from 1935-1941.
- Pre-1937: The tin Zeppelin mentioned in the original story ("it rolls and it beeps"), and appearing unremarked under the Christmas tree. Zeppelin travel ended for all intents and purposes with the Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937.
- 1937: Reference in the newspaper quiz to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released by Disney that year. Snow White can also be seen in the Higbee's window.
- The Parker family car.
- 1938: The color comics on Christmas Day - implying a Sunday. Christmas fell on a Sunday in 1938.
- 1939: Characters from The Wizard of Oz, released that year, appear in the Christmas parade.
- 1940: The license plates on the cars are silver (white) on a black field. Those were the colors of the Indiana license plates that year.
- Each year, Ovaltine brought out a different model for this decoder ring. The Radio Orphan Annie secret decoder model used in the movie is the 1940 model.
- The Red Ryder Daisy BB gun with "Golden Bands" was offered only in the first year of its manufacture. Christmas 1940 would be accurate for the Goden Band model. Scenes in the movie clearly show the rifle had golden bands. Additionally the 1940 Daisy pre-Christmas ads shown in the movie feature the gold banded rifle. In short the Red Ryder Daisy with "gold bands" ties the movie to Christmas 1940.
- 1943: The Bing Crosby/Andrews Sisters recordings of "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" are both very clearly heard on the living room radio (both recorded on September 27, 1943).
- 1946: Ralphie's father complains in the movie that "the Sox traded Bullfrog!" which is a reference to Chicago White Sox pitcher Bill Dietrich, who was in fact released from the Sox, not traded, in 1946.
- 1947: The police car in the schoolyard scene.
Many other "year specific" references can be found in the film, as 1939-40 is slightly later than author Jean Shepherd's own childhood (he was 19 years old in 1940) but earlier than that of director Bob Clark (who was born in 1939). While Shepherd was age 10 in 1931, Clark was age 10 in 1949 - a separation of 18 years. If the consensus between Shepherd and Clark was to find a "middle-ground" for their youths, they may well have divided the difference in half (9), then added that amount of years to the earliest date (1931), thereby arriving at 1940.
These minor contradictory items only indicate what director Bob Clark said in his commentary, as previously stated above: The film is set in the "amorphously later Thirties, early Forties." The movie is intended as a credible, warm and thoroughly inviting memory of an innocent American Christmas around the World War II era. The individual viewer can elect to "date" the film to any year they wish, but for whatever year they choose, many contradictions occur within the film, and this fits exactly with the writer and directors idea of "around 1940".
In 1994, a sequel with the same characters, but none of the same cast, was released. Titled It Runs In The Family (or My Summer Story), it told some further adventures of Ralphie and his family. While available on DVD, both it and its connection to the holiday classic are nearly unknown.
In 2009, Rhino Records released a soundtrack album for the film on CD. This release contains no spoken dialogue from the movie, only clips from the original score by Carl Zittrer and Paul Zaza and a version of "Silent Night" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
- Bob's Major Award (title card music)
- Jogging To School
- Black Bart Bites the Dust
- Meeting of the Minds
- And They're Off!
- Truth or (Triple Dog) Dare
- Jingle Bells
- He Had Yellow Eyes
- A Chip Off the Old Block
- When Things Seem Hopeless...
- Feet, Do Your Stuff!
- Ralphie's Brilliant Idea
- Ming the Merciless
- Don't Look Back
- Sleigh Bells
- Ralphie's Revenge & the "F" Word
- Joy To the World & Silent Night
- The Bumpus Hounds Make Their Rounds
- Glorious, Beautiful Christmas (closing credits music)
- Silent Night - Mormon Tabernacle Choir
A Christmas Story House
For the film adaptation of these stories, Bob Clark chose Cleveland, Ohio because of Higbee's Department Store. Scouts had been unsuccessful in finding a department store that was willing to be part of the film. Higbee's vice president Bruce Campbell agreed to take on the project on the condition he be allowed to edit the script for cursing (namely "the Queen Mother of Dirty Words"). Appropriately, the fictional boyhood home of Ralphie Parker is on Cleveland Street, the name of the actual street where Shepherd grew up. In addition to the house exteriors, Cleveland was the location used for the scenes involving Higbee's department store, despite the fact that there were no Higbee's stores in Shepherd's hometown.
Restoration and reconfiguration
In December 2004, Brian Jones, a San Diego entrepreneur and fan of the film since childhood, bought the house used by the producers as the Parker home on eBay for $150,000. Jones used revenue from his business, The Red Rider Leg Lamp Company, which manufactures replicas of the "major award" Ralphie's father won in the film, for the down payment. The previous owners had reconfigured installing modern windows, and covered the original wood siding with blue vinyl. Watching the movie frame by frame, Jones drew detailed plans of the interiors — which had been filmed on a Toronto sound stage — and spent US $240,000 to gut the structure, reconfigure it to a single-family dwelling, transform it into a near-replica of the movie set, and restore the exterior to its appearance in the film.
A Christmas Story House Museum
Jones purchased the house across the street and converted it into A Christmas Story House Museum, which contains some of the props from the movie, including Randy's snow suit, the Higbee's window toys, and hundreds of behind the scenes photos. The house to the left of the museum features a gift shop with movie memorabilia, which opened to the public on November 25, 2006, with original cast members attending the grand opening, and the site drew 4,300 visitors during its first weekend.
According to their official web site, the official Christmas Story Chinese Restaurant is "The Pearl of the Orient."
The Renaissance Cleveland Hotel offers a package deal for two that includes overnight accommodations and tickets to the House. As a bonus, the film is aired in the room 24 hours a day. Patty LaFountaine-Johnson, a local actress who portrayed one of the Higbee Santa's elves, hand-sews and autographs red-and-green felt hats similar to her movie costume and sells them at the house's gift shop.
In 2012, a musical version of the holiday classic, co-executive produced by Peter Billingsley, ran during the holiday season at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre. The show was revived at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden for 2013.
- A Christmas Story at the Internet Movie Database
- A Christmas Story at Rotten Tomatoes
- A Christmas Story on TBS.com
- 24 Hours of A Christmas Story on TBS.com
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