For many, the best part of Christmas is watching the same beloved holiday movies over and over again. We, in turn, pay homage to our favorites by breaking down everything that makes them annual must-have watches, from our favorite characters and moments, to all the ways they celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. In this classic Christmas movie breakdown, we take a look at a less traditional holiday tale that explores all the ways holidays and our family can drive us crazy, 1989 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Most classic Christmas movies celebrate the magic and wonders of the season. They are sweet stories about the perils of commercialism, the value of friendship and family, and spreading joy and goodwill to others. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is not your typical Christmas classic. Clark Griswold would love nothing more than to throw the most perfect Christmas ever.
Unfortunately, the holidays themselves keep getting in the way of realizing that dream. Just like his family. It might not be fun for him to experience one disaster after another, but it sure is fun to watch. And beneath all the comedy and terrors lies a movie that still has its heart in the right place.
Does Santa Claus appear in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? Is it real?
St. Nick appears in a fun animated short during the opening credits where everything goes wrong for Santa as he tries to deliver the Griswold family presents. It’s a clever way to set the tone for the film. But otherwise no.
Are there magical creatures? Are they talking?
No, but Uncle Lewis’ toupee looks like it’s going to come to life any moment.
Are there any religious elements in this film?
At first, Clark and his wife Ellen briefly sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” but that’s as close as the movie gets to something religious.
How adorable National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacationthe main character ?
It’s unlikely anyone would describe Clark Griswold as super adorable, but he sure means it. And that makes him someone who deserves to be encouraged. Of course, he tends to set impossible expectations for everything in life, which drives his family crazy. And yes, it can derail and pull out a chainsaw; however, all he wants for his loved ones is to create a magical vacation experience that ends with the gift of a swimming pool.
And how can you not be on Clark’s side when the Griswold clan is testing him every moment? We all know what it’s like to deal with irritating family members, bad neighbors and Christmas lights that don’t work. We’re not always at our best during tough holiday times, and we’re nowhere near as patient as Clark. Well, that’s until he gets his “bonus” and snaps. Then it really speaks for all of us at the end of a tough year.
How bad is the bad guy in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?
There really isn’t a major villain. Clark’s cheap boss is a selfish jerk who treats his employees like crap. But he’s a minor character who immediately sees the error of his ways after realizing how much he’s hurt the Griswolds. Clark’s stepdad isn’t exactly the nicest person in the world, but in fairness to him, Clark is a putz. It’s also impossible to hate Cousin Eddie even though he’s a walking disaster.
The real villain is Christmas himself, which brings a lot of stress. From work and family, to busy shopping and decorations, to the internal pressure to maximize the most beautiful time of the year, there is a lot to manage. It’s weird to think that Christmas himself is the main villain, but anyone who’s ever been completely overwhelmed by the holidays knows how true that is.
How sincere or cynical is he National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation about Christmas?
Clark’s refusal to be cynical even if one thing after another goes wrong keeps the overall spirit of the film brilliant. When Clark finally loses him at the “threshold of hell”, Eddie kidnaps Clark’s boss to cheer him up, which accidentally leads to Clark getting his Christmas bonus after all. Despite everything, the day is saved and the family enjoys the moment together. It’s a happy ending with no one complaining. Even though the movie showcases all the ways Christmas can destroy our souls, it still loves what it can mean. Remember that Jack Daniels and eggnog can really help.
Does anyone sing in this movie? Is there a big band singing?
Clark and Ellen sing a few songs together in the car, including “Deck the Halls” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. Clark also sings “Joy to the World” by himself. The big musical moment comes at the end, when Uncle Lewis lights a match near where Eddie has emptied the sewage from his RV. He sends the broken reindeer and Santa’s decorations flying into the night sky, leading to Aunt Bethany setting off a large group singing the national anthem. Although they also sing “Deck the Halls” afterwards, this patriotic rendition is the perfect song for this absurd film.
What are the biggest Christmas themes in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?
The biggest theme is obviously the family. Not so much that you have to love them or cherish them, but that you often have to tolerate them. It’s about as honest as any Christmas movie. However, not everything is negative. The film suggests that it’s easier to tolerate the family if you focus on their best qualities rather than their worst. The other important theme is the idea of expectations versus reality, which at first glance may not seem obvious for Christmas.
However, there are still expectations as to what a “traditional” Christmas means. We “know” that we are supposed to buy presents, hang lights, buy a big tree, and have a feast with our family. Whether we like them or not. Society has created a lot of stress during the holidays, which Clark falls victim to. Rather than just relaxing and enjoying the spirit of the season, he tries to achieve an impossible ideal of what it should be. It’s like any Christmas movie that tells us not to worry about the gifts we receive. Instead, we should focus on giving to others.
In the same vein, Christmas holidays reminds us not to forget to enjoy what the party is really about because you’re trying to live up to some stupid, meaningless standard.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation really has really meaningful ideas! That shouldn’t be so surprising though. It was written by John Hughes.
What is the best scene of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?
The film has a number of memorable moments that we could pick from. In addition to Eddie’s sewage dump, there’s Clark’s super sonic sleigh ride, as well as when he opens the family tree in the living room. The scene where he locks himself in the attic kills us. We’re also tempted to give it to the squirrel leaping from the new tree, as it triggers an incredible and destructive slapstick routine.
However, we finally go with when the exterior lights finally come on. Then they go off, then on, then off, then on again, much to the misfortune of neighbors Todd and Margo. Because as the film constantly reminds us, there is no joy without pain.
What is the most moving moment in the film?
There’s a truly beautiful moment with Clark and Ruby Sue, Eddie’s young daughter. She finds Clark in the kitchen fantasizing about a beautiful department store saleswoman diving into his future swimming pool (but, uh, we swear it’s still a very sweet scene).
She asks him if he is Santa Claus because being at his house is a gift in itself. Especially after she didn’t get any gifts last year. He says no, he isn’t, but he ends up playing Santa Claus for her and her brother anyway. It’s a tender moment and in the best spirit of the season, but done in the real national pamphlet style because that’s how their conversation starts.
When you can be sentimental and make us all laugh at the same time, you’ve given us a reason to make the same “Christmas Vacation” movie every holiday season.
Originally published December 7, 2018.
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