Peter Billingsley as Ralphie in A Christmas Story.

Step into the seasonal Wayback Machine for a trip to the Cleveland house where some scenes for A Christmas Story were filmed.

Most of the movie was shot in Toronto, a source of seasonal delight for locals who recognize vintage streetcars and snowy east-end laneways. The exterior school scenes (including the famous flagpole) were done in St. Catharines.

But the yellow house where the leg lamp glowed in the window was in a quiet, working-class Cleveland neighbourhood.

You can tour the house and even do an overnight stay to dream Red Ryder dreams of your own, just like Ralphie.

Tyler Schwartz, who had started the Christmas kitsch store RetroFestive with his wife, Jordie, a few years before, asked me if I’d be interested in writing about the Cleveland convention for A Christmas Story enthusiasts in 2008. Would I? Does the old man love turkey and swearing?

One more little seasonal Easter Egg: Remember how the family ended up having duck at a Chinese restaurant on a snowy Christmas night after the Bumpus hounds made off with the turkey feast?

That restaurant was in Toronto, not far from where I live. Then the Chop Suey Palace, it’s now an excellent French restaurant called Batifole. And there’s a leg lamp over the bar as a nod to its history.

Here’s my story from the convention weekend for the Toronto Star. Read the full feature here.

CLEVELAND–For millions of fans, the best Christmas movie ever doesn’t end with an angel getting his wings, but a nerdy-looking kid unwrapping a BB gun.

To them, A Christmas Story, the Bob Clark film based on short stories by humorist Jean Shepherd (who also narrates the movie), has eclipsed the 1946 Frank Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life as the top holiday flick.

It’s been a long climb for the relatively low-budget movie, shot for an estimated $4 million in Cleveland and Toronto by the director of Porky’s. A Christmas Story didn’t do great box office when it was released in November 1983, and disappeared from theatres soon after. Nor was it nominated for multiple Oscars like It’s a Wonderful Life, although Clark did pick up Genies for Best Director and Best Screenplay.

But thanks to the 1997 decision by U.S. network TBS to run the movie 24 hours straight through Dec. 25, coupled with booming video and DVD sales, it has gained an army of fans who say it wouldn’t be Christmas unless they see Randy trussed up in his snowsuit, the Bumpus hounds making off with the turkey and Ralphie railing against those who predict “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid” if Santa brings his coveted Red Ryder BB gun.

Some 4,000 of these fans gathered at a Cleveland hotel last weekend for the fourth annual A Christmas Story convention to mark the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release, meet its stars and tour the home of the fictional Parker family.

“They’ve got Trekkies; we’ve got Ralphies,” quipped Brian Jones. For $150,000 on eBay, he bought the rundown house in a blue-collar Cleveland neighbourhood that was used for exterior scenes in the film.

“It’s bigger than It’s a Wonderful life,” insisted Scott Schwartz, who played Flick, the kid who gets his tongue stuck to a flagpole by taking a “triple-dog dare.”

“Even though it’s a Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life has nothing to do with Christmas,” added Ian Petrella, who played reluctant eater Randy. “My theory is we’ve all had Red Ryders in our life. We’ve all had that moment in time when we wanted something so bad it’s all we can think about.”

Petrella’s words ring true. Ask fans and they’ll recount stories of the year Santa brought them what they really wanted, said Oakville-based Tyler Schwartz (no relation to actor Scott), director of Canadian operations for A Christmas Story‘s online store. “When you’re a kid there’s no feeling like it. Your only recourse is to ask for it for Christmas and you just hope and pray that you’ll open up your present and it’s your toy.”

Toronto actor Tedde Moore, who played Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields, said she had no idea how big the movie had become until she saw the huge crowd that came for the official opening of the Cleveland house two years ago. “It was kind of overwhelming,” she said. “In two days, 40,000 people went through the house. You couldn’t see the street for the crowds.”

To read the rest, go here.