HAMMOND | The bitter cold could not stop fans of the movie "A Christmas Story" from attending the Downtown Hammond Council's sixth annual Holiday Kick-Off Celebration on Saturday that served as a tribute to the late Jean Shepherd, the Hammond native who penned the now 30-year-old holiday classic full of Calumet Region references.
Up and down Hohman Avenue from Muenich Court to Sibley Street, businesses offered activities geared mostly toward children, including cookie decorating, turkey bowling and letter writing to Santa.
Some brave souls took a horse drawn carriage ride around the downtown area.
The Towle Theater at 5205 Hohman Avenue offered two viewings of "A Christmas Story," one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The Hammond Home Depot store sponsored a Santa's Workshop at 5201 Hohman Ave. that allowed children to build and paint wooden kit projects such as helicopters and airplanes.
"Last year we had about 350 kids, said Steve Krager, of Home Depot. "This year we're expecting almost 400."
Santa Claus was available for photographs at the former Harris Bank and Mercantile Bank at 5243 Hohman Avenue.
Activities there with "A Christmas Story" theme allowed visitors to design their very own leg lamp lampshade and a Shoot Your Eye Out contest in which children shot balls from toy guns at large cutouts of Ralphie, the movie's lead character who was obsessed with receiving a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.
Cyndee Tanas, of Hammond, brought her 6-year-old grandson, Jacob Tanas, who dressed in pink bunny pajamas as he portrayed Ralphie from a popular scene in the movie based on Shepherd's story.
Tanas said it was her first time coming to the celebration, but not her last.
"It's great and I'm gonna bring him every year," she said. "This is a family activity. It gets other people from other communities to come visit Hammond and see what we're all about. It really puts a good light on Hammond, I feel."
The winner of the first-place prize in the "A Christmas Story" character look-alike contest was Joseph Stephan, 5, of Highland, who is a spitting image of Ralphie, right down to the smile.
"I like the movie," Joseph said. "The part that makes me laugh is when the dogs eat the turkey."
Joseph's mother, Lisa Stephan, explained what she thinks is reason for the movie's continued popularity.
"I think it's enduring because it just tells the story of Christmas," she said. "Everyone wants that one gift that they may or may not get."