Why “Christmas Vacation” is a Christmas classic

When it comes to holiday movies, what constitutes a “Christmas classic?”

I don’t think there is a right or a wrong answer. Each family has their own favorite holiday movies. Growing up, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was a big one for the Denisons. “The Bishop’s Wife” was also high on the list.

Screwball comedies such as “Home Alone” and Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause” also became standards in our household, but the movie we couldn’t do without was 1989’s “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Even now that I’m 35, with a wife and stepchildren, “Christmas Vacation,” remains a go-to holiday comedy, as it does for thousands of other households. It’s also the one “Christmas classic” my wife and I both grew up watching religiously.


The plot is simple: Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase), his wife and two kids (14 and 11) host parents, in-laws and other extended family for Christmas. Clark is excited for the holiday and wants to pull out all the stops. What could possibly go wrong?

Just about everything.

The film starts with Clark getting his Taurus stuck under a semi on the way to picking out the Griswold family Christmas tree and things only escalate from here. Soon Clark’s parents and his wife Ellen’s parents join the mix, followed by a surprise guest: Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), who brings his wife and two kids along in their beat-up RV.

Clark does not see this coming.

“If I woke tomorrow with my head sewed to the carpet I couldn’t be more surprised than I am right now,” he tells Eddie.

No matter your age, no matter what your situation, it’s safe to say the more family that gets involved with the Christmas ceremonies, the more complicated everything becomes. This is especially the case when you’re hosting. You want everything to be perfect; the harder you try, the more frustrating it is when you get something wrong. No film captures this aspect of the “most wonderful time of the year” as absurdly or hysterically as “Christmas Vacation.”

Clark doesn’t mean to make a mess of things; he’s genuinely trying to make sure his family has a nice Christmas. By the end of the movie, Clark has about lost it, but when the film reaches its apex, we are reminded that the holidays are a forgiving time and the joys of the season seem to overcome the mayhem that ensues.

Of course, “Christmas Vacation” pushes it to the limits with some truly over-the-top circumstances, however, it serves its purpose of making us laugh out loud and appreciate our own crazy situations.

That’s what makes “Christmas Vacation” a Christmas classic. That’s why so many love it and even adopt the movie into their own holiday traditions, little by little. My parents love the movie so much they use the same reindeer-head glasses for eggnog the Griswolds use in the film. My brother-in-law even got the same Chicago Bears hat Clark wears while they’re looking for a Christmas tree.

I have a greater appreciation for this movie now that I share it with my wife and her family. It’s comforting to know we’ve shared the same laughs so many years and now share them together.

“Christmas Vacation” is often an icebreaker with people at work this time of year. It seems about everyone finds the humor in a squirrel jumping out of a Christmas tree.

There is no scene that tops all others. The squirrel might be a favorite to many, but just about any scene in the movie can be a favorite. The laughs are non-stop.

“Christmas Vacation” is almost 30 years old now, and it has aged well. Like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Miracle on 34th Street,” “White Christmas” and countless others, the movie is timeless, serving its purpose of spreading holiday cheer, be it through Chevy Chase sliding off the roof while putting up Christmas lights, Aunt Bethany reciting the pledge of allegiance when asked to give a blessing at the dinner table or Uncle Lewis blowing up the Christmas tree.

If you haven’t seen the film, I strongly recommend it, and if the film is a tradition in your family, I hope you enjoy watching it again. Perhaps you will find certain scenes even more relatable than in previous years. If nothing else, it will remind you not to take the holidays so seriously.

Thanks, “Christmas Vacation,” and happy holidays to all.

(As published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

About CharliesTrail

Originally from Indianapolis, Denison is a writer and musician who has picked up culture and influences from eccentrics all over the U.S. and overseas. He is a University of Kentucky Journalism School grad and an award-winning Montana journalist. Through the years he's had work published by "Chicken Soup From the Soul," DVD Netflix, Montana Quarterly Magazine, NUVO and Americana Highways. He has a solo album, "Whispers of the Lonely," and continues to chip away at his first novel. Currently Denison is the editor of The Boulder Monitor in Boulder, Montana, where he lives with his wife.
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