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.