Man it gets my goat when my old Christmas traditions and memories come crashing down around my head.
I watched two Christmas movies this week that were childhood favorites. The first was “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and second up was the 1983 classic “A Christmas Story.” Watching these movies as an adult, ESPECIALLY with my kids, was a way different experience than I remembered from my childhood. What I remembered as funny and encouraging stories about Christmas turned out to be some of the craziest and most horrifying movies I have seen with my children. Boy, how times have changed. Boy, how I have changed!
For the record, I can’t find many videos on YouTube or elsewhere with the scenes I am talking about in these movies (the sole exception is below). I am not sure if it is a conspiracy by “the man” to keep the bad in these movies out of the public conscience or if everyone else just watches them and forgets about some of the content. Whichever it is, there are almost NO videos I can find that have these scenes, so if you want to verify that I am not a raving loony you’ll have to watch the shows yourself. Don’t say you haven’t been warned though!
We gathered all four kids around to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special on Thursday night to get into the Christmas spirit. It had to be safe for the whole family, right? I mean, after all, it was made in 1965! There couldn’t be anything offensive in there, could there? Laura and I and our kids (ages 4-12) all sat down to enjoy some of the Christmas spirit together. The best part of the show was Linus quoting a good chunk of Luke 2 near the end, which never would fly in today’s TV culture. However, the movie was absolutely filled with the other characters calling Charlie Brown names. He was told that he was the stupidest blockhead in the history of humanity. Linus sighed and told him that of all the Charlie Browns in the world, he was the Charlie Browniest. They ridiculed him, browbeat him, and laughed at him to his face. We had to stop the movie on several occasions to remind our younger ones that we do not treat people that way! There was some good for sure, but a lot of questionable stuff that I had forgotten about.
Then last night we decided to watch “A Christmas Story.” My recollections about this movie revolved around the Red Rider BB gun and the slightly off-color lamp that his dad wins. There was a bully as I remembered, and his brother was annoying. But it was a good Christmas story! We sent the littlest two to bed just in case, and with the older two and a good friend who had never seen it we settled in for a good old cup of Christmas joy.
Good night! Where do I begin? There was more cursing in that movie than could possibly have been there when I was a kid. We had a memorable mute button FAIL when Ralphie utters a bad word when he gets his Annie Oakley decoder ring. I knew it was coming (it was the only one Laura remembered) and muted it, then un-muted it right before he says a quite inappropriate phrase, especially out of the mouth of a 9-year-old. Don’t believe me? (WARNING: one bad phrase in the last 2 seconds of this clip)
There was WAY more than this. His dad rages and curses in the basement throughout the movie, and though you never hear him cuss it’s clear that Ralphie picks it up from him. In the famous “mother of all curse words” scene he ends up with his mouth washed out with soap, and soliloquizing that he got it from his dad. On several occasions his friends let loose with curse words. Also there is an awful lot of sexual innuendo from the lamp his dad wins.
Neither of these shows stood up to my memory of them. What I remembered and what I saw as a dad were completely different! Now I am not a kid just enjoying Charlie Brown being laughed at by his friends; I’m watching it wondering how my own kids are taking it and what it is telling them. It really made me think and consider the call of God on me as a parent in Deuteronomy 6:6-7,
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
Rather than chalk this up as worthless nights that did harm to my kids, though, I decided to make the most of them. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” teaches that materialism and consumerism can’t replace the story of the birth of Christ, and teaches that truth explicitly. So we “chewed the meat and spit the bones” with the kids, reminding them that we didn’t treat people like Charlie Brown’s friends treated him and at the same time reinforced the message that Jesus is the reason for the season.
With “A Christmas Story” is was a bit more complicated. There really was not much of a redemptive theme; in fact the overriding message of the movie was that Ralphie cajoled his parents into getting him a Christmas gift, then lied and got away with it when he hurt himself with it. So we talked about that, about the peer pressure that Ralphie faced, and about the message concerning Christmas that the movie gave. I suppose the best that I could say about it is that we used it as a bad example and “inoculated” the kids a little, then had a laugh and a face-palm over our parenting fail after they went to bed.
It also reminded me that the Christmas that I experienced as a kid is very different than that Christmas that I celebrate now. I grew up as a typical, secular American kid without any thought about the history and tradition of Christmas. We didn’t go to church at all when I was young (I became a Christian at 22), and movies like “A Christmas Story” were relatable to me because I saw a lot of that in my childhood in the 80’s. Bad words weren’t a big deal in my house. Though sex was a taboo subject, fighting certainly wasn’t. (don’t get a wrong impression; I’m grateful for my upbringing and parents and they have a good marriage)
Today I am a lot different. Now I am concerned with making today count forever, and about serving Christ out of gratitude for His sacrifice for me. I suppose I see it in the sense that I am not the man I used to be, which means that I need to put stuff like that behind me without being morose about it. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11-12,
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
I am not the guy who wasn’t bothered by those things. Christmas is about Christ, plain and simple, and this Christmas I am grateful that amidst the noise and busyness I can hopefully spend some time with Him. And though as a Christian these two shows were certainly not sinful for me to watch, nevertheless they weren’t a good use of my time or a helpful way to spend my Christmas. As Paul says, they are lawful but not profitable. So I am going to try to get some more profit into my Christmas and less spiritual junk food. More Jesus, less mall. More love, more peace, more good times and less stress over deadlines. More thought into my entertainment choices! That way, in the years to come my kids can enjoy the movies we watched with their own kids and not have the same chagrin that I had this weekend.