Cleveland Christmas History

A Christmas Story, directed by Bob Clark, was released a week before Thanksgiving in1983 with no great expectations, but has slowly grown into a Christmas cult classic. In fact, the movie would have never been made had Bob Clark’s 1982 raunchy teen comedy Porky’s not done so well. A Christmas Story’s success, however, is due in equal parts to the plot’s nostalgia (sometimes sickeningly sweet) and dark holiday humor making it feel both real and hyperbole simultaneously. Though set in the late 30’s or early 40’s the film so well captures the tropes of an American Christmas the film continues to age well.

Heavily based on the short fiction of Jean Shepard, many of the famous scenes come from anecdotes in Shepard’s collections In God We Trust, All Others Must Pay Cash and Wanda Hicky’s Night of Golden Memories. Shepard worked with Bob Clark and Leigh Brown to create the screen play. Shepard stars as the films narrator “adult Ralphie”.

After ending scouts to many cities, Bob Clark settled on Cleveland Ohio as the primary shooting location for the film. Clevelanders were so excited about the film many of them donated the use of their antique cars for the film.

Higbee’s Department Store, located in Downtown Cleveland until 1992, was one famous location for three important scenes. The opening scene were Ralphie first sees the BB gun in an elaborate window display of toys. The parade scene was shot outside Higbee’s in Public Square. Finally , the famous “visting Santa” scene inside Higbee’s were Ralphie and his little brother have a misadventure visiting Santa. Highbee’s was known for its elaborate Christmas decorating that catered to children, with a live Santa centerpiece, and actually kept some of the set, including the slide and used them for many years.

The exterior shots and some interior shots of the family’s home were done at a house in Tremont on Cleveland’s West Side. This house has been restored and turned into a museum honoring the film’s cult status and is open regularly for touring. The Chinese Restaurant where the family has duck for Christmas because the neighbor’s hound dogs ruined their turkey also still exists, in a more modern form, not far from the home.

Whether you have or have not seen this now classic film, its worth an annual rewatch cuddled up with the family on a cold night sometime before Christmas.

All About That White Christmas

Even for those of us that typically loathe snow we can all agree that a little snow on the ground on Christmas morning makes the day a little more special. Unfortunately, in Ohio a white Christmas is always a crap shoot.

In a year where a white Christmas might mean a little more to everyone what are the chances we will get one?

One famously trust source on the topic, the Farmer’s Almanac, released its Christmas weekend forecast. For Ohio they summed up the forecast as “increasingly cloudy skies for the Christmas holiday weekend.”

If we don’t get it on the day there may be snow between the 20th and 23rd of December and perhaps before New Year’s Eve.

Many cultural critics link our national obsession with a white Christmas to several sources. One such source is Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. This novella, originally published by Chapman & Hall in 1843 in London during a time when British society was evaluating and changing their Christmas traditions. Dickens’ classic holiday ghost story depicts a perpetually snow-covered London on and around Christmas day.

Additionally, the now classic “White Christmas” written by Irving Berlin and sung, originally, by Bing Crosby sits proudly among one of the best-selling singles of all time. The song is pure nostalgia whose lyrics focus on what else but a white Christmas “…like the ones I used to know…” This cultural artifact undoubtedly also has had a great influence on our Christmas snow obsession.



Make Your Own Cookie or Make Your Own Hot Chocolate Bar Ideas for Christmas Eve

Whether you are used to taking the family out to do something on Christmas Eve or typically spend it at home quietly or boisterously together here are some alternative ideas for a Christmas Eve at home.

While high on effort and snack foods creating a make your own cookie bar can be a great idea. This would require a set of blank, basic sugar cookies be made about a day in advance (bonus points if you want to try to bake them the day off). It would require several color options for icing and lots of other pretty, edible things to put on the cookies themselves. Making one large batch of icing and using food coloring is probably the most economic way to go, especially for a larger family.

Remember to have everyone pose for the camera with their favorite cookie before it gets consumed.

As adults we indulge in things like a Bloody Mary bar at brunch. The same concept can be applied to hot coco for the family, at home on Christmas Eve. Whip up a batch of hot coco and keep it warm while the family indulges in some treats. Things that can go on a large garnish stick or bamboo skewer like marshmallows are great. Many of the sprinkles from the make your own cookie bar could be used for this idea as well. Various hard candies, like candy canes, can be used to add flavor. You might also include some flavor syrups like we use for coffee. Whipped cream toppings are a must, of course.

Chickasha, OK Home to 40ft Tall Leg Lamp from “A Christmas Story”

Chickasha, Oklahoma. Regionally know for its Festival of Lights display. Yet now it might become famous because of another Christmas time icon: a giantized version of the “leg lamp” from the classic holiday movie “A Christmas Story.”

Chickasha resident and treasurer of the Economic Development Council Tim Elliott came up with the idea for the display. Elliot was trying to come up with yet another way to make his city a tourist destination.

Elliott created his own “triple dog dare” for the economic council when he created this idea. Elliott set his two-foot version of the lamp on a table in front of the council and suggested a 150ft version at the end of Chickasha’s Main Street. Everyone had a good laugh.

Unbeknownst to Elliott and the council the famous and unusual lamp from Christmas popular mythology may have a real-life connection to Chickasha via an Oklahoma University professor, Nolan James.

James kept insisting, until his death, that he invented the leg lamp. Elliott blew off the idea that this was possible. When James died even his obituary maid the claim that he invented the lamp. His story goes that the original was a fixture of his office and that an unnamed man often stopped by to see it and that man ended up working on the production team for the film “A Christmas Story.”

The current 40-ft leg lamp at the end of Main Street in Chickasha is only an inflatable, but the council plans on building an even larger and permanent structure.


Composer Benjamin Russel Hanby, Ohioan

Benjamin Russel Hanby was born in Rushville, Ohio on July 22, 1833. He would become an American composer, pastor and educator who wrote about 80 songs in his lifetime. His mostly well known compositions were the Christmas carols “Up on the House Top,” “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” as well as popular song “Darling Nelly Gray and the hymn “Who Is He In Yonder Stall?”.

In 1849 he moved to Westerville, Ohio to attend Otterbein University. He was also involved, with his father Bishop William Hanby, in the Underground Railroad.

Hanby composed the popular song “Darling Nelly Gray” on the now historical site Hanby House which is located on Grove and Main in Westerville, OH right across from Otterbein University.

After graduating from Otterbein he taught school, briefly. Afterwards he became a minister at the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Later, in 1860, he became the principal of Seven Mile Academy located in Seven Mile, Ohio. He was also, briefly, a minister of a church in New Paris, Ohio but quickly started operating a singing school in New Paris.

When he composed “Up On The Housetop” as a Christmas sing-along. He originally named it just “Santa Claus.” Just the next year George Frederick Root brought Hanby to Chicago to look into further music publishing business based on their success with “Up On the Housetop.”

At 33 years old Hanby died from tuberculosis in Chicago in 1867. His grave is located at the Otterbein Cemetery, Westerville, OH.