Growing up in the eighties, I was completely enamoured with the Griswolds. I remember my parents and brothers guffawing through repeated viewings of the original National Lampoons Vacation on VHS (or was it Betamax?)
Then there was the time mom took us to see the sequel European Vacation and ten-year-old me was mortified to be sitting next to my mother while a busty German girl bared it all to Rusty. Even though the second installment of the franchise hasn’t held up as well as the others have, we loved European Vacation in its time. I can still sing the Pig in a Poke theme song, if that counts for anything!
So it was like icing on the proverbial fruitcake when National Lampoons Christmas Vacation came bouncing into our lives, back in 1989. Now, twenty-five years later, it’s regarded as one of the best Christmas movies of all time… and I can truly say I’ve been a fan since the beginning! It was movie fandom that prompted me to source and sell Clark Griswold-style eggnog moose mugs online, which ultimately led to the creation of our pop culture Christmas website RetroFestive.ca.
But back on Boxing Day 1989, no one could have forseen all of that. My family was simply looking for a light holiday diversion when we trekked out to the local cinema, complete with crazy aunts and uncles in tow. What we discovered in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation was a pop culture treasure that would continue to make us laugh every Christmas for the next 25 years.
I was in grade nine that year, and I remember making a holiday mix tape with the Christmas Vacation theme song as its lead track. I taped the song off the radio (as we did back then) so whenever I hear it today, I can still hear Casey Kasem doing the lead in. I didn’t realize then that the Christmas Vacation theme song is sung by Mavis Staples of the storied Staple Singers. Her powerhouse vocals are also featured in the concert documentary The Last Waltz, in which she sings The Weight, backed by The Band.
But back to The Griswolds. What is it that makes National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and the Griswold family so endearing, even after 25 years? It must have something to do with the zany cast of characters that reminds us of our own families. We all know a Clark Griswold, someone who’ll stop at nothing to make Christmas perfect for their family. And we all have that one relative who has shades of Cousin Eddie. “Save the neck for me Clark!” We can relate to Aunt Bethany wrapping up her cat just like we can relate to Audrey’s disdain for sharing a bed with her brother. “Do you sleep with your brother? Do you know how sick and twisted that is?”
Christmas Vacation is a perfect modern day Christmas movie because it doesn’t force sentimentality, it earns it. It’s packed with edgy humour, silly sight gags and hilarious one liners. “Grace? She passed away 30 years ago!” It traipses out every holiday trope, but lampoons them better than any movie has before or since.
In the end, Christmas Vacation is about family. Beyond the mayhem, beyond the 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights, Clark Griswold knew that Family is what it’s all about. I’m thankful I got to see Christmas Vacation in theatres with my family 25 years ago and I look forward to watching it with them again this year as we relive all the memories of the crazy holidays we’ve spent together.
Here’s wishing you the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby danced with Danny f***ing Kaye!