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Points of Light Christmas Edition: Christmas Vacation


Welcome back to  the last entry in our holiday retrospective.  Well, the gifts are open, the turkey’s eaten, and the family’s gone home.  The post holiday blues are settling in, so let’s take a minute to reflect and laugh at the insanities of the holiday season.  And what better way to do that then with one of the greatest Christmas comedies ever- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The Plot

Clark Griswold, the hero of the Vacation series, has set his sights on a perfect, ‘old-fashioned family Christmas.’   As such, he attempts to create perfect family moments like going to the woods and finding a tree (without bringing a saw), decorating his house with thousands of lights (that don’t light), and bringing his entire family to stay with them (despite the fact they all hate each other).  But Clark continually puts on a cheerful face, knowing that he has a major surprise planned- a pool.  However, he needs his annual bonus to cover expenses, and it still hasn’t come.  Clark attempts to focus on the holiday, but the stress of constant failures, the arrival of his hated cousin Eddie, and the cancellation of his bonus, finally pushes Clark over the edge, which causes Eddie to kidnap his boss so Clark can insult him to his face, and the police to swarm Clark’s house, which still leads to a celebratory Christmas ending.

What Writers Can Learn: Parody, Conflict

Christmas Vacation is regarded as one of the best Christmas comedies, and for good reason.  The events that happen in the film, while exaggerated, are still familiar to anyone that has gone through the holiday.  We all want to remember Christmas as a wonderful time we spend with loving family, and that’s often how it appears through nostalgia.  But in truth, Christmas is always filled with stress- the preparation, dealing with relatives that you don’t care for, and being forced to pretend to be happy.  Through Clark’s actions, we are literally given a view of the ideal of Christmas verses reality.  Some of us can certainly remember people that get too into the holiday, and drag others into creating something that they don’t particularly want.  And all the events that Clark deals with- the tree, the lights, his family and bonus- while exaggerated, still have enough truth in them they we can relate them to our own lives.

But we also see the conflict take its toll as well.  Clark represses most of his stress throughout the failures of the holiday, but he does crack under the presence of obnoxious cousin Eddie, and the cancellation of his bonus.  But strangely, this manages to be work as a victory for both the ideal and realistic Christmas.  Clark may hate Eddie, but he doesn’t hesitate to help out when he learns that Eddie cannot afford presents for his children.  Clark’s breakdown shows him that his perfect Christmas is over, but it also prompts his father to remind him that past Christmas’s weren’t perfect either.  And finally, the kidnapping of Clark’s boss also forces to realize the impact his decision has had on his employees, and in an apology, reinstates the bonuses, and allows Clark his dream of a pool.  In that way, the film makes a unique resolution of its conflicts- saying that the realistic elements of Christmas are true, but that we can still come close to what we see Christmas to be through our actions.

Further Reading  

The Vacation series also pokes fun at other vacation aspects, from road trips to Europe.  Those looking for more Christmas style hi-jinks would do well with Home Alone, which also shows the difficulty of a family vacation at Christmas.  And with that, we end this year’s holiday retrospective.  Happy Holidays, and best of luck in the New Year.