“A Christmas Story”: Ralphie’s Perfect Gifting Secret

Is this the face you’re going for?

There’s no better feeling than hitting the gifting bulls-eye, especially when the best gift is shared in a face-to-face moment. Every kid knows receiving great gifts feels wonderful. But we adults know giving great gifts feels even better. ‘Tis truly better to give than to receive.

Except when it isn’t.

Whether they cost precious time, energy, or money, our gifts of love and appreciation are demonstrations of how much we care. As givers, we seek precisely the right gift, the one that will elicit genuine squeals of delight. We’re right there. We can tell when we’ve delivered a winner.

When our gifts must travel to distant places, as most of mine do, we can’t deliver them with a hug and a smile and Sherlockian examination of the recipient’s body language. We hope we’ve gifted a thrill, not missed the target by twenty miles.

You know what I mean. Too often, instead of the perfect present, we unwittingly create an Aunt Clara moment. A moment hilariously funny onscreen, but in our real lives, um, not so much.

When I think of all the years I stressed needlessly over finding the perfect presents for everyone on my list, I feel a little silly. All that ended when I decided to ditch Aunt Clara for The Old Man and Ralphie.

If you haven’t seen the holiday classic movie, “A Christmas Story,” you’re missing one of the funniest, most poignant films of any season. The nine-year old hero, Ralphie Parker, desperately wants a Red Ryder BB Gun. But his mother, his teacher and even Santa say, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Hilarity and life lessons ensue.

Did Ralphie receive the gift of his dreams? Did he shoot his eye out?

Christmas morning, Ralphie can’t wait to open his presents, including one from Aunt Clara. Her gift was no doubt selected with loving care and sent dozens of miles. Imagine the stress she felt attempting to make her sister’s boy happy.

You know the stress I mean. The kind we all feel about choosing gifts. Aunt Clara searched her heart, maybe pled for suggestions (in response to which her sister probably said what my mother always says, “Oh, you don’t have to send Ralphie anything.” or “He’ll love whatever you send him because it’s from you.”).

I imagine Aunt Clara did what I used to do. She chose what she no doubt believed was the perfect thing and sent it off to her sister, fingers crossed. Maybe she over-spent, stressing her budget, creating instant buyer’s remorse, hoping her gift would make young Ralphie deliriously happy.

At first it seems possible. Ralphie fairly jumps with excitement before he opens Aunt Clara’s gift. His family watches with indulgent anticipation. So far, so good.

Ralphie rips open the package. Something’s wrong. He’s swiftly dismayed. He lifts his gift out of the box. Along with his parents and little brother, we’re disappointed now, too. Then, everyone except Ralphie laughs hysterically. Ralphie is mortified. Instead of the warm fuzzy feelings Aunt Clara wanted to deliver, Ralphie mourns, “She thinks I’m a four-year-old girl!”

What was that perfect gift, selected lovingly, wrapped carefully, presented with such pleasure? Not a Red Ryder BB gun. Instead, it was something no self-respecting nine-year-old boy would be caught dead in: A pink bunny suit that covers Ralphie from head to toe, complete with floppy ears, paws and feet. What was Aunt Clara thinking? Probably that Ralphie lived in a cold climate and the pajamas would keep him warm and be fun. Sorry, Aunt Clara, but no.

It gets worse. Mom, mindful of her sister’s feelings, adds to Ralphie’s discomfort when she requires Ralphie to try the gift on. He manfully dons the suit and endures the family’s snorts and guffaws.

It’s not over yet. Immediate disappointment and humiliation are not enough; Ralphie must agree to wear the hated suit when Aunt Clara visits and write a thank you note for the odious present to boot!

If Aunt Clara were in the room, she’d feel about two inches tall at that moment. Total gift failure. Poor Ralphie. Poor Aunt Clara.

We all know how it feels. Been there. Done that. No desire to repeat. Who would?

We know those who love us spend time and money to make us happy. We’re grateful to be remembered and it’s the thought that counts. Even worse, we know Aunt Clara won’t believe us when we thank her effusively because, let’s be honest, we’re not great actors. If Aunt Clara is in the room with us, she’ll know she failed for sure, even though she’ll pretend to believe us because, well, she loves us and it’s the thought that counts.

Writing a carefully worded thank-you note for such gifts is painful, too. How does one write a heart-felt thanks for a pink bunny suit? More importantly, who wants to make someone we love do that? Not me. Not anyone who cared enough to give me a gift in the first place, either, I’ll bet.

But we don’t need to repeat Aunt Clara’s experience at all. Ralphie showed me the best gift we can give and receive: The Old Man Moment. When we do that, everybody wins.

The Old Man

Ralphie made the Old Man’s job easy. Nobody had to guess what Ralphie wanted. He told Santa and sent a letter, too. He wrote about his wish for his school essay. He told his parents. He left hints laying around the house. Not one person in this story had any doubt about what gift would make Ralphie the happiest kid on earth.

Ralphie’s excitement and elation when he opened that Red Ryder BB Gun was a sight to behold. And Ralphie’s surprised delight was overshadowed a thousand fold by the pure joy on his father’s face. A father who knew, without question, he’d made his boy happy. Priceless. If you want to know what I want for Christmas and every occasion: I want what The Old Man got.

How many moments like that have you delivered? How many times have you received such pleasure? If they’ve been too few and far between, consider doing things Ralphie’s way this year.

Now, I do my best to give myself and everyone on my list the opportunity to successfully deliver a perfect present, Ralphie style. Every chance I get, but not quite as in-your-face as Ralphie, I casually and simply tell them something that would delight me and ask what’s on their wish list this year. Often, what they really want is easier and less expensive than the pink bunny suit I might have selected otherwise.

I try to make my list and theirs as long as possible and include items that will fit all budgets — so no one goes into debt and everyone can still be surprised. Even easier, if your crowd is open to it, simply suggest you exchange wish lists. This doesn’t make the people I love greedy and ungrateful. To the contrary, it’s a great gift to me when they make it possible for me to be The Old Man.

You may think asking is crass and distasteful. Or you may think honestly telling what you’d like lacks grace. Whenever you’re lured into those thoughts, remember Aunt Clara’s bunny suit and ask yourself if you’re willing to take that risk.

Hey, works for me. I haven’t had an Aunt Clara moment in years. Thank you, Ralphie!

What’s on your wish lists this year? Have you collected lists from your loved ones and shared what you’d really appreciate receiving? Will you be Ralphie and The Old Man, or once again — Aunt Clara?

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24 Responses to “A Christmas Story”: Ralphie’s Perfect Gifting Secret

  1. Coleen Patrick November 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    We love A Christmas Story here–it is full of memorable quotes that we say all year long. 🙂
    And there was always someone who gifted like Aunt Clara in our family too.
    As for giving presents, i always tend to give a lot of books, or if they are absolutely not a reader than it’s gift card time, ha ha.

    • Diane November 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

      Can’t go wrong with books, Coleen! Poor Aunt Clara! Just don’t want that to be me!

  2. Sheila Seabrook November 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    I love The Christmas Story. It’s my all time favorite Christmas movie. We don’t buy gifts anymore but will start again when we have grandchildren someday. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the fact that I don’t have to shop for presents. 🙂

    • Diane November 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

      No gifts??!! OMG! Well, this is not much of a secret, but I love shopping. Christmas shopping is lots of fun. Sometimes, we go to the mall just to be in the ambience of the season without buying anything at all.

  3. Julie Hedlund November 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    It is a tremendous feeling to give someone the “exact right” gift. Too many years in a row now though, I find myself going through the gift-giving motions. There’s just so many people to buy for and such high expectations these days. As a result, I’m trying to simplify and focus on experiences more. For example, my kids’ birthdays are both in January, and we are going to choose a place to go as a family instead of giving them presents.

    Wish me luck!

    • Diane November 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

      Very creative, Julie. And I’ll bet they’ll love it! Good for you. Question: will you tell them in advance? Or put together a gift package of things related to the trip, such as maps or postcards or tickets for things to do on your family vacation to give them something to look forward to?

  4. Patricia Rickrode November 17, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    This is a very heart-warming and funny movie, especially since most of us can relate to it. The feelings of angst watching while others open your “perfect gift” and the fear of letting your disappointment show when you open that “less than perfect gift” and don’t want to hurt anyone’s (your husband’s) feelings. Alas, thankfully today we have – the gift card! (I encourage my husband to use this option every year but he insists on getting me clothes that rarely fit and have to be exchanged. Bless his little ole heart.)

    Thanks for sharing such a lovely Christmas memory.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • Diane November 18, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      Glad you enjoyed it, Patricia. I know just what you mean — before I discovered Ralphie’s secret, I spent too many anxious moments before the gift was open and then pleading for a hole to open in the floor and swallow me afterward! Try giving your husband a list. He’ll appreciate it — even if you think he won’t!

  5. Louise Behiel November 18, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    I have grandchildren. christmas = spoiled. I love it. and I have such fun spoiling them. but i do that all the time and for any occasion

    • Diane November 18, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      I’ve noticed this pattern just about everywhere, Louise. 🙂 It’s so much fun to spoil the ones we love, whether they’re children or not!

  6. Kristy K. James November 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    What a great post about one of my very favorite movies! I’m like you…I want to be like the dad in this movie. But in everything (except maybe a leg lamp!). He was just SO enthusiastic about everything. He was also a great father who was very tuned in to his son. He saved him from the bunny suit…and bought the longed for gift, too.

    And I love lists. After my kids grew out of the toddler age, the lists began. Not that they get everything on it because I want LONG lists so I have plenty of options to choose from. I also want the lists early so I can take advantage of Amazon as much as possible (because I don’t enjoy shopping). As for me? A bottle of my favorite perfume makes me happy. 🙂

    • Diane Capri November 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

      Whoo, Boy, Kristy. You might wanna expand your list. How much perfume can one woman wear, anyway??? 🙂

  7. August McLaughlin November 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    Aw… Love it! “A Christmas Story” is such a classic. As you probably noticed from my blog, I’m big time into Christmas. My birthday falls on the 23rd, so some years I make a “birth-mas” list. 😉

    To avoid Aunt Clara moments (LOL!) I ask my sisters what my nieces are into in advance. The kids grow so darn fast! When in doubt, definitely ask…

    • Diane Capri November 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

      Totally with you on all counts, August! Years ago (before I learned Ralphie’s secret), I would go to the store and ask a kid about the right age what s/he wanted for Christmas (or birthday) presents. Believe it or not, I got some great feedback this way and managed to make a few good choices. Kids are very honest. I approached one 14 year-old girl in a clothing store and asked her what she’d like in that store and she said, “Nothing. I’m here with my mother.” 🙂 And then she told me where to get cool presents for a 14 year-old.

  8. Debra Kristi November 19, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    Christmas Story is a must watch every year at our house. Poor Ralphie. We don’t exchange gift with our family anymore. The only ones we buy gifts for are the kids. And considering they get on Amazon and make lists with 200 items on them, we are pretty set with the shopping ideas. Times have changed. But we still try very hard to emphasize how important it is to remember that the holidays are not about receiving but about giving of the heart. It’s a WIP thing where the kids are concerned. Great post Diane!

    • Diane Capri November 19, 2011 at 10:21 am #

      We have a big extended family, Debra, and we play a game for gift exchange each year that everyone loves. Around here it’s called “Dirty Santa” because you can “steal” someone else’s present. Gets everyone involved in the gift exchange and laughing, which is the point, right? Love Amazon’s ability to let the kids make lists now — rarely have to be Aunt Clara!!

  9. Lena Corazon November 19, 2011 at 8:06 am #

    Another fan of “A Christmas Story” here! My friends and I started making lists for each other a few years ago, and it’s made life SO much easier (except for last year when we tried Amazon lists, and my friend Chris decided to buy himself half of the things he had posted… not realizing that we had already bought them. Silly guy). I used to be all about the element of surprise, but it’s nice not to feel crazy anxious while I’m in the store, trying to figure out the “perfect gift” for each person.

    Lovely post, Diane! Makes me excited to start watching holiday films. 🙂

    • Diane Capri November 19, 2011 at 10:22 am #

      Me, too, Lena! And I’m looking forward to the “Christmas Story” musical as it tours through here next month. Should be fun to see what they do on stage with this one!

  10. Jennette Marie Powell November 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    I can’t believe I missed this post – A Christmas Story is one of my faves!

    As for gifts, Amazon Wish Lists are the best! I finally got my sister in law to set one up. My daughter and I do every year, as do some of our friends. I *hate* shopping for relatives can’t think of anything they want, and I have no idea what to get them. I’m trying to get the rest of the family to set up Amazon Wish Lists, especially since you can put things on them that aren’t from Amazon – if there’s a page/picture about it online, you can add it! Amazon even gives you a way to mark something you’ve bought elsewhere on someone else’s wishlist, so someone else doesn’t go out and duplicate it.

  11. Diane November 28, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Those are all great suggestions, Jennette!

  12. Lynette M Burrows November 29, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    Ah, Diane. LOVED this post. Made me misty eyed! I LOVE Christmas time. I watch every Christmas movie and sing along with carols and generally drive my family bonkers. Guess I’m a lot more like The Old Man than I’d thought! I’m sorry I missed this earlier.

  13. Diane November 29, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    Glad you enjoyed it, Lynette. As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

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