I’m only a month older than A Christmas Story and can’t possibly count how many times I’ve seen it. It’s just always been—and always will be—a part of my yearly holiday experience. But the new HBO Max sequel, A Christmas Story Christmas, is a very different type of movie. This new tale is still told through the eyes of Peter Billingsley’s Ralphie, but he’s not a kid anymore. He’s a dad himself now. So rather than hoping to experience a perfect Christmas he’s hoping to give that to his children. It’s a hope we both share. After growing up with Ralph I’m a dad now, too, and this year will only be my son’s second Christmas. And like Ralph, I’ll always worry about making sure every December is special for him.
But A Christmas Story Christmas gave me reason to think I shouldn’t worry quite as much. The film’s most moving idea was an unexpected gift to a dad who will never be at his best in December. Because it shows why it doesn’t matter if you make every aspect of Christmas absolutely perfect for your kids. It only matters that you try, because in the end they’ll only remember the good stuff their Old Man did.
A Christmas Story Christmas opens with the unexpected death of Ralphie’s father (played by the late Darren McGavin in the original movie). Ralph’s mother doesn’t want that to spoil the season for her family, though. It’s the last thing her holiday-loving husband would have wanted. So she makes her son promise to make “this a wonderful Christmas” for all of them.
Ralph does, but of course that’s a lot easier said than done. Broken dreams, broken bones, and broken car trunks make a perfect Christmas impossible. And what makes that disappointment even worse for Ralph is that he feels like a failure in comparison to his Old Man. Ralph says his father made a wonderful Christmas “look so easy.”
Except, that’s not true at all! I know because I’ve experienced Ralph’s favorite childhood Christmas a million times. At no point did the Old Man make everything look easy. And that Christmas definitely wasn’t all wonderful. From a broken furnace to the neighbor’s dogs eating the Parker family turkey, to a gaudy leg lamp and too much cursing in front of his children, Ralphie’s Old Man was far from perfect during the holiday season. And while he certainly seemed to appreciate Christmas, nobody ever considered his dad a modern day Kris Kringle. He was just a father doing his best.
It’s only decades later as a parent himself that Ralphie thinks of his father with such rose-colored glasses. That’s because he only remembers the good stuff from those days. He remembers his Old Man taking him to Higbee’s to see the decorations and teaching him how to haggle over the price of a Christmas tree. And Ralphie remembers Christmas morning as the day he got his dream gift. It was waiting for him in the living room corner, lovingly put their by his father without Ralphie’s worried mom knowing.
It didn’t matter that the Old Man wasn’t a perfect dad or the perfect leader of the Parker family Christmas. Ultimately it only mattered that Ralph’s dad loved his kids and tried. The older Ralph got the more the bad stuff faded away and the more the good stuff came to the forefront. (It’s funny that he never recognizes that in the film, but it also makes sense. He only got to live through that Christmas once. The rest of us have lived through that childhood holiday season multiple times every Christmas.)
That’s why this movie was such a gift to me especially. I’ve worried about making Christmas special for my son since before he was born. Last year, when Alexander was just a couple months old and still undersized after being born six weeks early, I put up my first Christmas tree in 10 years. My family and I had stopped celebrating Christmas entirely. Without my baby sister—who truly loved Christmas more than anyone I have ever known—enjoying Christmas wasn’t something we wanted to do. It wasn’t even something we could do.
I knew when I became a parent, though, that wouldn’t be an option. My son deserves to experience the joy of the season. And that means experiencing everything that goes with it: a tree, decorations, Christmas songs, and a father who doesn’t only think of December 24th as the day of his sister’s funeral. But, like Ralph promising his mother, hoping and doing are very different things. It’s why I fear, especially as he gets older and looks forward to Christmas, whether I can give my son the holiday he deserves. No amount of holiday cheer and decorations can fill a hole in your heart. And not when the holiday itself means something else to you. So while you can wish to be the best dad and deliver the best holiday ever, it doesn’t mean you can be or that you will.
I know how true that is for me.
But maybe I don’t have to. A Christmas Story Christmas isn’t about a perfect parent or a perfect holiday. It’s about a father trying his best because he loves his kids. And I know I will try as hard as I can for that exact reason. And hopefully, even if I remember everything I get wrong, as the years fade away my son will be like Ralph and only remember the good stuff. I can’t think of anything I’d ever want more for Christmas.
Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. (Or on Hive and Post.) And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.