Behold: the most depressing Christmas radio program ever broadcast in this country. It's an episode of Dragnet from December 22, 1949. I'd say that this is so over-the-top depressing that one may even laugh near the end, but anyway you frame it, this is miserable. I wonder why they didn't do a happier story. Like, ever. That just didn't happen on Dragnet the radio program, and I think that's a flaw. The series' thing is how realistic it is. Well, if you're going to be realistic, you need to show a range. Can't all be gut punches.
Gene Autry did a lot for Christmas in this country. It was he who had the initial hit version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," in 1949, and then in 1950, he had "Frosty the Snowman" as a follow-up. Think of that: those two songs helped birth they entire Rankin-Bass run. Rudolph and Frosty are to Rankin-Bass and Christmas TV specials as Dracula and the Frankenstein monster are to horror pop culture.
It's a Wonderful Life does a nice job of compacting life events, but without making them feel "bunch-y." This is not easy to do. For instance, consider the dance in the gymnasium. Now, on this night, George Bailey's father is going to die. It's a huge night in his life for that alone. But it's really a three-part night--the big dance where he meets Mary again, with so many bodies around; then the next scene, with only two principle bodies--there's a third if we count the grumpy old neighbor who is off in the distance--as a connection becomes cemented between George and Mary; and then the news brought by the patrol car about George's father. That contrast between so many bodies and then only-two-bodies creates distance. Separation. So that it feels like a different day, a different time. See how that works in the viewer's mind? That way you can get in a lot, and it's not over-crowded or like you're just listing life events. Because I bet you never think, when you start to watch the big dancing scene, "Hmmm, George's father is going to die tonight." That doesn't enter your thoughts. I like the touch, too, that he went to the locker room and got an old football uniform to wear home on account of his clothes being wet, and Mary has her towel. That's not stated explicitly. You have to put that together. That's what good artists have us do--put things together, but really without knowing that we're doing it.
Going by the Little Orphan Annie radio program, the events of A Christmas Story take place in December 1940. This is the decoder pin mentioned in the film: