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Binging: A Christmas Story

December 22, 2017

By Aaron Goldfarb, December 22, 2017

Is there anything better than sneaking some beer into a movie and getting after it? But what if it’s the holidays and you’re stuck inside with family who will never let you leave the house? Hopefully you’re well stocked with good stuff to drink while revisiting any number of Christmas classics streaming or on TV.

I almost guarantee, whoever you are, wherever you will be over Christmas, you will accidentally see at least a second of A Christmas Story. The 1983 film was a cult classic almost from the beginning – slowly earning a respectable but not amazing $19.2 million at the box office – and quickly became ingrained in the American fabric due to relentless network and basic cable re-airings over the years. In fact, for the last twenty years, TBS and/or TNT has aired 24 hours straight (12 consecutive showings) of A Christmas Story over Christmas eve and day.

What I’m saying is... you kinda gotta try to miss this one every year.

It’s for that reason, that it occurs to me I’m not even sure if I’ve seen A Christmas Story. I mean, I’ve seen A Christmas Story. I believe I’ve seen every single second of A Christmas Story, multiple times too. I’m just not sure I’ve ever seen it in order, all 93 minutes from start to finish. Luckily, A Christmas Story is almost intentionally designed for fractional, intermittent, checking-in-and-checking-out viewing, which is surely the biggest reason it became such a holiday classic in the first place.

And it’s the reason it will surely continue to remain one in this shorter and shorter attention span era. Because it’s a movie unintentionally built for modern times.

What else has a nine-year-old got to care about in life?”

De Dolle Stille Nacht

Holidays are, if nothing, about tradition, and my personal beer tradition is to always drink at least one Stille Nacht, usually on Christmas eve. “Silent night” is, for my money, the best Christmas beer on planet earth because it’s not too Christmas-y. It’s arguably the only Christmas beer that remains world class even if you’re drinking it in July.

Potent yet pale in color, the 12% ABV Belgian offering is liquidized candy, though not too cloying due to the liberal use of Nugget hops. Personally, I prefer it with a few years on it (and always keep bottles in the cellar), but fresh it’s quite tasty as well. Notes of  over-ripe bananas and golden raisins, I’m excited every year to have one.

The plot of A Christmas Story is threadbare and as simply as can be. It’s nothing more complicated than a movie about the simple joys of childhood, when aspiring to get that one perfect gift from your parents could keep you going for the entire dreaded winter. It’s a slight plot with a predictable consumerist ideology, but it rings true. What else has a nine-year-old got to care about in life?

I’m a Jew, but I still remember that one stupid gift I absolutely had to get from my parents or I would just die (die!). It was called Mr. Game Show, and for the life of me, I can’t remember why I wanted one so bad. Maybe the annoying and relentless commercial cult-programmed me into wanting it. (Commercials back then, during Saturday morning cartoons, were quite insidious.) Even today it doesn’t particularly look like something a youngster would like.

The “holy grail of Christmas gifts” for our protagonist Ralphie Parker is, of course, the, say it with me, Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot Range Model air rifle. You’d think a cute bespectacled kid wanting a gun wouldn’t still play well in this modern era (it’s almost surprising this year’s NBC live musical remake didn’t change his desired gift to, like, a fidget spinner or something), but of course it still works. It has to. It’s as iconic as young Charles Foster Kane’s rosebud sled.

Ralphie drops hints to mom. Writes essays to his teacher. Prayer to a cruel store Santa. It all seems futile. Because of course every adult continues warning him:

“You’ll shoot your eye out.”

One of the most foreboding warnings in film history. And just like Chekhov’s gun, we’re all cinematically savvy enough to know anything introduced so early in a movie will have to be dealt with eventually. Which makes even the main thrust of the weak plot unnecessary.

Though not necessarily unenjoyable.

Schlafly Ibex Rare: Devil’s Farmhouse

Drink Christmas beers all holiday season and you’ll quickly learn to hate them. You need to break them up with something acidic, that can cut through all the rich foods you’ve been eating, that can dance on your tongue and refresh your palate... and which doesn’t contain cloves or cinnamon for Chrissake.

This new release from St. Louis’s Schlafly instantly became my surprise of the season. I have no idea why they decided to release a dark saison in December, but we are better off for it. Packaged in a super-cool black champagne bottle with a rose gold name placard on the front, it’s a rye, wheat, and dark malt grain bill inoculated with Brett, then aged with black currants and sweet cherries in red wine barrels for 18 months. Tart and vinous, the 7.5% alcohol by volume offering is invigorating, but should be sipped slowly.

Like that iconic “shoot your eye out” quote – the most famous from the movie – watching the film now is mainly an exercise in sitting around waiting for the next highlight to appear.

The desk drawer of pranks.

The Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin.

The leg lamp’s surprising arrival.

In many ways (hot take alert!), this is a movie that is way more charming and enjoyable in our memories than it actually is in real life. In fact, it’s a masterpiece in memory, not reality. That’s one reason why it’s so good to drink during. To drink during with perhaps a large group of chatty friends and family. That way, during the boring parts you can drink and chat, muting yourselves only when another of the greatest hits gets played.

Ooooh fudge! (“My father worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay.”)

The Scut Farkus Affair

The tongue getting stuck to the frozen flagpole.

Watching it now, I see that these characters could very well be twenty-something drinking buddies, daring and double-dog daring each other to do something childish and stupid. Perhaps the male gender is like this from the day we’re born. But even now, watching that tense, then hilarious scene (the funniest in the movie), always makes me want to be dared to do it myself. And I’m 38. And have already done it once before.

What I’m saying is, at the least, this is a movie that brings all adults back to childhood.

The Bruery Black Tuesday

And, I figured, if this is a movie about a young boy dreaming about getting the gift that would surely change his life, perhaps I should finish the movie with a pour of something that was once my own white whale. When The Bruery first released this nearly 20% ABV barrel-aged bruiser in 2009, let me tell you friends, it was not easy to get. I had to call in a lot of favors to finally find someone on the west coast who would send me a bottle. When I finally tried it... it was actually better than I imagined.

So rarely do things live up to the hype. For me, that especially doesn’t happen much anymore. I’ve lived a very charmed life as a beer writer; I’ve tried lots of great stuff. Today The Bruery itself sends me bottles of Black Tuesday to try and review. I would have never dreamed I’d be in a place like that in life. For all those reasons, I should be less thankful to try it. I should find it less enjoyable. I don’t. It’s still a bruiser, but it’s still damn good.

Alas, this movie is undeniably from a bygone era, both plot-wise and cinema-wise. An era when parents still slept in different beds. When Chinese restaurant employees could be made into racist caricatures on the silver screen. Still, that dream of a child desiring that one gift (if he could just get it!) is enough to keep us curious through all the little vignettes, and carry us to the final scenes and more greatest hits.

Even if they are no longer surprising, even if they are no longer as good as they “used to be,” they are still a part of us.”

Buying the Christmas tree and singing on the way home.

The fluffy bunny pajamas.

And the unexpected surprise of, yes!

Ralphie finally getting the Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot Range Model air rifle.

Is it as good as he dreamed it would be?

Yes, but...

Not quite.

I never did get Mr. Game Show and if I was probably mad on that one day when not getting it became a realization, I don’t think it ultimately affected me one iota. I can’t even remember why my parents didn’t get it for me, nor what they got me instead. You quickly realize those most desired gifts of childhood won’t really change your life (and, as an adult, neither will those most desired #whalez).

Still, the excitement of the holiday season, even for a Jew, will always be there, and the simple traditions will always be enjoyable. Even if they are no longer surprising, even if they are no longer as good as they “used to be,” they are still a part of us. They are the “highlights” of life we want to hit each season.

Thus, A Christmas Story too will always remain an indelible part of the Christmas season, the gift that keeps on giving even though you’ve already unwrapped it and played with it countless times.

Grades
If viewed while drinking beers - A
If viewed sober - C-

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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