National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

The film screening which I attended was one that was conveniently located on campus in the Kirkhof center screening theatre. On Monday December 3rd, I watched the classic Christmas film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989). Although this film screening was not part of any festival or series, I still feel that I gained something important from attending: an hour and a half to unwind during the week before finals. This was my first time attending a screening in the Kirkhof theatre, and I will definitely be doing so again soon after discovering how nice the space is. As a busy college student, I can definitely appreciate how many resources that Grand Valley offers to students on campus alone. The selections of films that the campus theatre offers also surprised me. I also enjoyed that a Christmas movie was showing in the theatre as we get ready to depart from campus for winter break. I had seen parts of the film in the past, but I had never sat down and really paid attention to the plot and style of the film before, so I’m glad I got the opportunity to.

With Christmas approaching quickly, I was very excited to sit down and throw myself even deeper into the holiday spirit. I mean, who doesn’t love a good Christmas movie? The film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) is a comedic interpretation of just how stressful this time of year can really be for families. So many films about the holidays can make the whole season seem completely effortless and peaceful, but that is rarely how it usually goes. I enjoyed this film for its realistic portrayal of the season, something that I believe is what ultimately turned it into such a classic. I think that it is important to throw honest films into the mix so that families have something to relate to while planning their Christmas agenda. It’s also hard not to love a film that Chevy Chase stars in. The opening scene really sets the mood for the film. The film starts with Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family in their old hatchback, on their way to find the perfect Christmas tree. This scene is filled with arguing, complaining children, and road rage, which is only the start of how true Chechik’s portrayal of Christmas is to most real families. The usual cheery chorus-sung music that is played in most opening scenes of holiday movies is replaced with Clark’s off-tune singing, and the typical opening scenery of the perfect winter wonderland is traded for a panning of half-melted, brown snow; once again, much more realistic.

The further into this film you get, the more you find yourself wondering what else could go wrong. Every family’s worst fear surrounding the holidays seems to take a toll on the Griswolds: Extended family members arrive early, the Christmas lights don’t work, and the vital Christmas Eve dinner is ruined by a turkey dryer than the desert. Unwanted family pets show up at the house, pesky relatives keep breaking things in the house, and nobody seems to be actually enjoying themselves. This film is honest and dramatized enough to make viewers appreciate that even though they might have some problems, at least they aren’t suffering like Clark Griswold. The underlying theme of this film goes to show just how much pressure is put on people this time of year to put together “the perfect Christmas.” The symbolism used by Chechik throughout the film does a great job of allowing people to relate to all of the conflicts that the Griswolds are facing. Clark spends most of the film worrying about the arrival of his Christmas bonus, which represents the financial pressure that the holidays induces. Although the true meaning of Christmas was not intended to be defined by gifts, it has become one of the most vital things about the holidays. The next door neighbors to the Griswolds are, of course, a wealthy and well put together couple who have the perfect Christmas laid out. By cutting from clips of this couple to clips of the mayhem happening in the Griswold house, the audience can clearly see the differences between how the media portrays the holidays, as opposed to how they actually play out most of the time in the real world. Many Christmas movies want to lead people to believe that the holiday is about perfection and being the best, when they should really be about portraying the importance of being around family and friends whom you love.

Although this entire film is filled with arguing and conflicts, it is still a Christmas movie, and there is still a happy ending. The Griswold family puts their differences aside and comes together by the end of the film to celebrate the holiday. The ending of the film shows that even though it is a stressful time of year, the true meaning of Christmas—being surrounded by those you love—is enough to overcome all of the hardships.

I believe that honest movies like this are extremely important to balance out all of the unrealistic movies that Hollywood puts out there. Audiences like being able to relate to what they’re watching, it makes people feel good. The idea of the “Perfect Christmas” is misleading because, as shown in this film, you can achieve it without all of the glamour and gifts. It was clear that everyone around me also enjoyed this film by the laughs throughout the screening, and I’m glad that I chose this film to view.

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2 thoughts on “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

  1. This movie has so many memories for me! My family watches this movie every Christmas eve or Christmas day when we all get together for the holidays. You are so right in saying that it is hard not to love a movie that Chevy Chase is in. I also love this movie for its realistic interpretation of the holiday season. It can be so stressful on finances and family to try to plan the “perfect” Christmas that we see portrayed in films, however that is never what happens. I like your analysis of the “Christmas bonus” being representative of the financial burdens of the holiday season. We have grown up conditioned to want a Christmas just like in the movies, but the best holidays are the ones that don’t have all the glamour and gifts, but rather just time spent with family. This is so similar to how media portrays Christmas versus the reality of this popular holiday. I am so glad that you had time to sit down and watch this movie fully, because it is just such a feel-good movie.
    This year was the first year that I went to the Kirkoff screen as well, and I also loved it. I really do appreciate all the resources that Grand Valley puts out there for their students. Our university really cares about us, our education and our well-being. The Kirkoff screen is such a great addition for us to view movies that we might not normally have time to go see in the movie theater. It also is a cheap version to view these movies, which is great for all college students since we all don’t have the time or money to always view movies in the theater setting. Super great analysis of the film, I hope you enjoyed this movie as much as I do!

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  2. I went to see National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at Kirkoff as well. I really enjoyed this film and I can see from your post that you did too. My family watches this film every Christmas together and personally I think that this is one of the best Christmas movies. I’m glad that you finally got to sit down and watch this amazing film. I think that it was interesting that you commented on the opening of the film. I did not catch the true meaning of the opening until I read your post. This opening was not like the other Christmas film’s, it showed a little bit of snow on the ground, not a perfect white snowy day. In my post I also spoke about all of the mishaps that happened during the film, as well as all of pressure Christmas has on families. I think that Christmas is suppose to be a time full of love and family but the stress can sometimes ruin the festivities. We both agree that this is an honest film and that it’s important for people to have something that is realistic. I believe that the director over exaggerated many of the mishaps that happened to the Griswold family. But I so think that it makes viewers more interested in the film and the whole idea behind it. Even though this film was filled with arguing, accidents, and complaining, it still shows the importance of Christmas and what it means to families. I like how you mentioned that this film is not like a regular Christmas film. The other Christmas films lead people to think that the holidays have to be perfect and that nothing can go wrong. We both end on the same conclusion, Christmas is all about spending time with the people you love. Christmas can not always be perfect, those few things that go wrong make for great memories that families will most like laugh about. Making films like this show everyone what a true Christmas looks like.

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