A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Christmas Story is a 2007 Finnish fantasy (dubbed into English) that reverse-engineers the story of Santa Claus, or St. Nikolas, explaining why and how he began delivering presents to children on Christmas Eve. The reindeer, sleigh, red suit, and long beard are all here in a story that has much joy but also the sorrow of an orphan boy who is raised by a poor village and repays the kindness with handmade gifts year after year. A young boy loses his family. A girl loses her father. A man treats children harshly but softens eventually. Apart from mentioning Christmas, the movie has no religious content.
What's the story?
CHRISTMAS STORY offers a version of how Santa got to be Santa. In the dead of a remote Finnish winter, young Nikolas (Otto Gustavsson) is left alone when his parents and baby sister are killed in an accident. Other families in the village, though poor and barely able to feed themselves, vow to raise Nikolas, each family for one year at a time. Every year at Christmas, Nikolas must pack up and move to the next generous family. Before he goes, he whittles animal figurines for the children of the family he's stayed with. In each succeeding year he adds gifts for the new families. In the sixth year, an early frost kills the harvest and the lake yields no fish, so no family can afford to take him in. A woodworker named Isaak (Karl Vaananen), who delivers handmade goods to the village every Christmas, offers to take the boy, with the intention of using him as slave labor. After a year of hard work, Nikolas learns the carpentry trade and earns Isaak's respect. Isaak treats Nikolas like a son from then on. Decades pass and Isaak leaves his workshop and savings to Nikolas (the adult is played by Hannu-Pekka Bjorkman), who decides to use them to bring presents to children in all the surrounding villages. Travel and the large load require a sleigh, reindeer (which Nikolas must train), and for an unexplained reason, a red suit. And so the legend is born. When Nikolas pledges to deliver gifts for his last Christmas, it seems he has died, but he later reappears to friends as a happy apparition flying through the sky in his suit, pulled by reindeer. Much of the Santa story is explained, but the flying part will have to be explained to curious children by their parents.
Is it any good?
This isn't the familiar Santa story most kids know. Christmas Story has plenty of gentle charm but parents should be aware that the youngest viewers may find the loss of Nikolas' family sad, his treatment at the hands of his employer scary, and the departure of a great friend tearful.
This movie is sweet and oddly comforting to the degree that it could become a nice annual tradition for kids to watch as the holiday approaches each year, to remind them of a time when Christmas was less about material accumulation and more about expressing gratitude for what one already has.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Nikolas becomes obsessed with delivering gifts to children in Christmas Story. Why do you think he does it?
Isaak changes his attitude toward Nikolas after confessing he misses his own sons. Why do you think he treats Nikolas nicely after they get to know each other better?
Do you like to give and receive presents? Why do you think it's nice to give gifts?
- In theaters: November 16, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: November 3, 2009
- Cast: Hannu-Pekka Bjorkman, Otto Gustavsson, Jonas Rinne
- Director: Juha Wuolijoki
- Studio: Anchor Bay
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Run time: 83 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: for mild thematic elements and brief smoking
- Last updated: October 17, 2019
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