In 1985 my dad died.

He had struggled with non-Hodgkins lymphoma for 7 years, and far surpassed everyone’s expectations.  After dotting all his i’s, crossing all his t’s, he ticked the last box and died content.

But for our family, it sucked.

Christmas was looking to be particularly dreary.  What could there be to be happy about?  It was about the worst I have ever felt.

My mom and I decided that attitude sucked.  So we went out of our way to start telling each other about the nice things we saw, the moments that made us happy, how beautiful the frost looked on the grass – we tried to find the little bits of life for which we could be grateful.

Then two things happened one right after the other – my mom won the holiday gift bag at the local Hallmark store, and we watched “A Christmas Story” with Ralphie.  My mom said later that there wasn’t a whole lot to the gift bag, but the fact she won something made the difference, “It was like a little sign from the universe that things were going to be okay – I know that’s silly, but that’s what it seemed at the time.”  And of course, Christmas with Ralphie completely changed our perspective.

It’s perhaps not the pinnacle of contemporary Western cinema, but the hilarious adventures of a Midwestern holiday brought back all sorts of wonderful memories about my dad and family, and gave us a refreshing perspective on what the holidays really mean – it’s not in presents, food, activities, or decorations (although all that is loads of fun!), but it’s in the fact we do all those things with those we care most about.

That year we didn’t do a whole lot in terms of lights, cookies, and other stuff, but everything we did was together.  And instead of the big Christmas dinner, we ordered Chinese take-out and watched our VHS of “A Christmas Story”.

It was wonderful.

Now, years later my family still does the same thing.  And my children say Christmas isn’t complete without the Chinese take-out.

Thank you, Ralphie!