Christmas is upon us! In fact, it is only a mere five days away. If you’ve dared the stores or malls lately, you will quickly realize that the race is on to finish Christmas shopping and preparations for the holidays. This is a happy time of year – a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, to show love and compassion to others, and to spend time with loved ones. However, this time of year is also often a time of stress and strain as the more quickly the days pass, the busier and more stressed people get. Commitments, deadlines, and extra things on the “to do list” pile up and add on, causing us to have less time to actually enjoy the season and the real reason for Christmas.
One small tradition that I have tried to practice over the years to add some laughter to the season, especially when I find myself feeling stressed, is to watch the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (directed by Jeremiah Chechik, released Dec.1, 1989). Since its release in 1989, the movie has received critical acclaim and is often considered a modern Christmas classic. (information courtesy of imdb.com)
The movie begins with the Griswold family in their station wagon on the quest for a Christmas tree. Clark and Ellen (the parents) begin singing Christmas carols in the car, attempting to convince their children, Audrey and Rusty, to join in. The kids refuse to sing along, and the Griswolds soon find themselves being antagonized by some rough looking characters driving along on the highway. Clark sets the scene for the first of many Christmas mishaps – he succumbs to road rage and finds himself crashing into the sign advertising Christmas trees. (I can relate to the road rage part — thankfully not to the ‘crashing into the sign’ part!)
The scene continues to the Griswolds hiking in search of a “good old-fashioned family Christmas tree”. We are also made clearly aware of Clark’s own quest (and the theme of the movie) : to have a Good Old-Fashioned Griswold Family Christmas. Clark, however, forgets the axe and the next scene is the Griswold’s driving home with an enormous tree, including the roots, tied to their station wagon.
We then meet Clark and Ellen’s parents who arrive at the Griswold home to spend the holidays. They arrive bickering and getting on everyone’s nerves immediately. Clark tries to remain positive and sets out to decorate the home with outdoor lights for Christmas. The lights become Clark’s focus – he can’t control what’s going on in the inside of his house, but he can make the outside look beautiful. Clark thinks that if he is able to achieve the perfect look for the good old-fashioned family Christmas, everything else might fall into place. Ellen even accuses him, “Are you out here for a reason or are you just avoiding the family?” Clark is also accused of overdoing the decorating and his response is, “When was the last time I overdid anything?” (We have already been given a glimpse of Clark’s “overdoing” and this is confirmed by Rusty’s visible eye roll.)
Several mishaps later, the 25,000 twinkle lights are finally lit and are appreciated, for the most part, by the family and extended family. New relatives arrive, unexpectantly : cousin Catherine, her backwards husband, Eddie, and their two kids. They are welcomed to stay and Clark expresses that he hopes the lights “help to enhance their Christmas spirit”.
The lights don’t solve the problems though. The relatives are still bickering, the large house seems to have very little room in it, and the underlying problem (and stress) of Clark not yet receiving his Christmas bonus is evident. (Clark needs the bonus to cover the cheque which he has written to have a swimming pool put in as a Christmas surprise.)
In so many ways, we might find ourselves relating to Clark and the Griswolds. Clark has taken on too much, trying to have the perfect old-fashioned family Christmas, with little to no help from his pre-occupied family. How many of us have been in a similar struggle? We try to do it all, everything that is supposed to be done for the season, and only find ourselves consumed and overwhelmed. Sometimes we are offered help but, for one reason or another, we don’t take it.
Clark doesn’t ask for help. He tries to do it all on his own. Incidentally, his family doesn’t seem to show much support to begin with. His parents are fairly positive : his father says he would get through family Christmases “with a lot of help from Jack Daniels”, and his mother is like the ostrich sticking her head in the sand only wanting to come up when the coast is clear. Ellen is scattered and seems overcome with the enormity of it all, and Rusty and Audrey don’t want to be involved. Ellen’s parents are critical of Clark and we are introduced to the idea early on that they don’t really like Clark. We are left with the impression though that their opinions are the only thing they would offer anyway.
Clark sets standards that are way too high. Ellen even says to him, “You set standards that no family event can ever live up to”. Clark’s quest for the perfect old-fashioned family Christmas is a quest for perfection that the Griswolds (nor any family) can ever complete. Clark’s expectations for how this Christmas should turn out are unrealistic, but yet he doesn’t realize it. He is obsessed with creating the perfect old-fashioned Griswold family Christmas and he can’t see past that. Expectations can get in the way of a clear view of reality.
Clark does realize that Christmas is about resolving differences and seeing through the petty things in life, but his tolerance level begins to wane. He continues to bestow kindness on his family, however, with only a few mild comments : “Can I refill your eggnog? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere? Leave you for death?” Dealing with family can be trying, especially in holiday situations. Add stress to the mix and things can get even hairier. Friction can result and can cause family events to go awry.
“How could things possibly get any worse? Take a look around you, Ellen. We’re standing at the threshold of hell.” Eventually Clark realizes that things are falling apart. His aunt’s cat gets electrocuted, his tree burns down (so he goes out and cuts a tree from his own yard, trashing the neighbours’ house in the process), and a squirrel jumps out of the new tree creating havoc and disaster in the house. The company messenger arrives with an envelope which Clark thinks is his Christmas bonus, but when it turns out not to be, Clark finally cracks. He swears revenge on his boss. Cousin Eddie disappears and returns shortly thereafter with Clark’s boss wrapped in a bow. The SWAT team smashes through the house, explanations are given, apologies made, and Clark finally gets his wish : the family is singing Christmas carols and dancing together amidst all the destruction of the house.
The movie has a fairytale ending of sorts. Differences are resolved, however temporarily, and a family joins together to celebrate Christmas. We, as viewers, are left with a feeling that things have turned out the way they are supposed to. We are left with that “feel good feeling” ; perhaps it is for this reason that the movie became a modern classic. We can all admit that there is some comfort in seeing that things do go wrong for other people, and that it is not just us. It is comforting to know that we are all human and we all make mistakes. The situations which occur during the Griswold Christmas are approached with humour and an attitude that everything will work out just fine in the end. Most of us hold onto that hope in real life too.
At Christmas time, and throughout the year, let’s try to remember that things may not always turn out the way they are expected to, but they will always turn out the way they are supposed to.
The End. 🙂
(Dear Readers, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas! Thank you, as always, for your reads, likes, and shares! Take time to celebrate the Reason for the season! Love ~ K ~)