Once again, the Mormon Third Eye steps up to provide a valuable service- settling arguments and reducing contention among family and friends by providing authoritative data on the best Christmas movie of all time. The why is at the end of the story. Hang in there!
What is your favorite Christmas movie? Anyone living among human civilizations has one. Does your heart melt when the tinkling of a bell on a Christmas tree brings a new angel a set of wings in “It’s a Wonderful Life,”or when legions of postal workers pour piles of letters on a judge’s desk addressed to Santa Claus to prove that he exists in “Miracle on 42nd Street?” I know people very close to me who don’t believe Christmas has arrived until they have watched “ White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” or even the “Charlie Brown Christmas Special.”
These classics usually become favorites because they stir up emotions closely connected to the spirit of Christmas. We are taught to not judge unrighteously, to open our hearts to others, to give anonymously, and receive graciously and thankfully. In more rare instances, we may be inspired to remember the Savior and the sacrifice he made for us, and then attempt to pay Him back somehow by making some sacrifice for somebody else. However, my personal favorite, “The Christmas Story” by Jean Shepherd, did something more valuable than move me to be more magnanimous in my dealings with others: it saved me from buckling under powerful peer pressure and disregarding a prophet’s counsel.
The best way to start this story is to first begin with that story. “The Christmas Story” was released in the fall of 1983 and slipped in underneath the radar of violent Hollywood blockbusters like “The Terminator” and “Sudden Impact.” It was a slow-moving, heart-warming dry humor masterpiece vastly under-appreciated in a time when slow-moving, heart-warming dry humor masterpieces were not trendy. Like many cult classics, its enduring value was not recognized for over a decade, after which its inherent, home-spun charm had time to grow on the tastes of a generation of television addicts drowning in cop dramas and reality shows. It has become so popular over the past few years that some cable channels play it for a straight 24 hours on Christmas eve day; its most memorable quote, “you’ll shoot your eye out!” is the phrase of choice in our house and many others when warning children against anything that is dangerous.
It is important to remember that when “this story” began, I had no knowledge of “that story.” It was the fall of 1983, and I was a young, single, carefree young adult busting out of the confines of BYU and living the good life in cosmopolitan Annapolis Maryland the way I wanted to live it. I was blissfully… lonely and unhappy.
At BYU, as long as you had a ward, a class, and a library that played the Hawaii Five-O theme at 11:00 pm to shoo out the study rats, you were happy. You didn’t need a car to take advantage of the buffet of social interactions being offered, and even if you were rooming in a basement with six other return missionaries and living off of leftovers in the Cougareat Kitchen, it was still fun being there.
Now, however, I was in Washington DC for the holidays, renting a corner of a room of an apartment with a sleeping bag being my only piece of furniture. The car I didn’t have was needed to get involved in any sort of social activities in the local young adult scene. I was just another single member of a family ward that didn’t fit in and working in an office staffed with nice people with nothing in common, instead of attending BYU classes populated with aspiring Sister Taits. Furthermore, convincing the public library (which, of course, I could not access without a car), to play the Hawaii Five-O theme every night just to please me was out of the question.
It was under this unfortunate intersection of circumstances that I found myself one evening crammed into a packed car of other equally desperate male and female young adults cruising around the various movie theater marquees in the greater Annapolis area shopping for media diversion. It was at this moment I learned the hard lesson, at the advanced age of 24, that not all Young Adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were created equal. In the depths of my natural naivete, I was internally shocked to learn that not all of them had made the same promise I had to honor President Kimball’s pleas to avoid the corrosive, spiritual degrading effects of viewing movies rated higher than PG.
We drove past several theaters and casually discussed the merits of watching several films that did not even rotate in the same solar system of church standards, and I was locked in a vicious battle with my own conscience on speaking out in support of prophetic guidelines we were preparing to violate. The tension increased exponentially when it dawned on me that actually, I had no control over what we would see that night; I was trapped in some else’s car 2,500 miles away from home, and 15 miles away from my sleeping bag in the corner of the room in the apartment. As I look back on it now, the glaring contradiction of my internal struggle was comical; while I was pleading with the Lord to help me find some way to keep my standards, I was also secretly hoping for help in not having to reveal to my friends that I was trying to keep my standards.
After driving past several movie marquees and tossing back and forth several remarkably indecisive Neanderthal communications such as “uh… I dunno… what do YOU wanna see? Uh.. I don’t care… What do YOU wanna see?,” We pulled in front of a theater offering two choices: the newly released and quintessentially violent “The Terminator,” rated R, and another unknown movie, titled “A Christmas Story” and rated PG.
The situation was rapidly deteriorating. This was the last stop on our entertainment trail, and the content of the ensuing discussion was veering ever closer to the wrong choice. Everyone except me had some clever and exciting tidbit to share about the worldly blessings we would reap from watching freakish half-man half-robots mercilessly and graphically destroy most of mankind. The mental torture of the decision making moment was unbearable; would I stand my ground and righteously proclaim my refusal to join them? Or would I crumble under peer pressure and live with the guilt and shame of following other mindless sheep off the steep moral precipice of R-rated entertainment?
My flourishing and overactive imagination conjured up stirring scenes of a lone, noble shape in the darkness silhouetted against a fluorescent street light; a courageous, righteous young man (me?) embarking on a long, all-night trek on foot back to his sleeping bag while his buddies shared bonding conversation and oversized bags of butter laced with popcorn, huddled in front of a big screen packed with exploding body parts and nightmare-inducing screams.
On the other hand, I also saw myself in the theater, trying to enjoy their company but not the movie; hand over my eyes, as if being there but not actually seeing the screen would spare me from sin, and eventually slinking like a melting watered witch underneath the seat in front of me, quickly decomposing under the onslaught of a carefully and consistently trained conscience into a mass of irretrievable guilt and shame over my mistake. It was, at that moment, I was inspired to... lie.
How often does one get to use the words “inspire” and “lie” so close together in the same sentence? An unknown force prompted me to decisively discuss the glories of a movie I knew nothing about. “Hey you guys! What about this other movie... A Christmas Story?” I continued to fib with the ease and confidence of a shady used car salesman. “I’ve heard from a lot of other people that it is really, really funny! We should definitely see this one!”
Everyone else in the car found the strength of my argument both refreshing and persuasive, and followed me blindly into the theater to watch “A Christmas Story.” After we found our seats and the movie started, I released a near audible sigh of half-hearted relief; we had avoided the R-rated option without resulting embarrassment.
I’ve had over twenty five years to relive the miracle of that moment every December when the holidays roll around. What did it leave me?
Could it be that there were other members of the group that night as equally concerned and gutless as me when it came to selecting appropriate movies? I hope so.
Did God inspire me to lie? Definitely not; He merely blessed me with “just-in-time” knowledge when I needed it. Does God answer prayers? Yes, but rarely in the ways or means we expect.