On the 4th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me A Vacation

Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in Christmas Vacation.

When I was growing up we had specific things we did as a family. We went to my Aunt Carole’s for Thanksgiving. We did our own Christmas Eve and Christmas morning (and usually dinner) and eventually found my way to my aunt’s house for evening festivities. I recall a few New Year’s Eves at my Aunt Bertha and Uncle Bob’s as I suffered Guy Lombardo. And we’d invite a cadre of relatives to our house for Easter. We had a lot of summer birthdays in the family so we’d do a big family picnic to celebrate.

Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be the two major holidays when it is fashionable to get large groups of family members together. Folks travel from near and far to get “home for the holidays.” And now, in this post-COVID world we find ourselves in, family gatherings are poised to make a comeback.

4. Christmas Vacation – 1989

I am not a big fan of most of the National Lampoon movies, especially the “vacation” flicks. I liked the original, but European Vacation did nothing for me, and the rest, well, seem to be cheap attempts at recapturing the magic of Animal House and the first Vacation.

My favorite doesn’t involve a vacation at all – Christmas Vacation is more of a staycation. The cast is second-to-none in the series. Most people don’t make the connection that Rusty is played by Johnny Galecki of Roseanne and The Big Bang Theory fame. Juliette Lewis is great as Audrey, E.G. Marshall, Beverly D’Angelo, Doris Roberts, Randy Quaid (even though he’s around the bend and not allowed back in the United States these days), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus round out the ensemble. The actress who played Aunt Bethany, Mae Questel, was the original Betty Boop. Christmas Vacation was her last screen appearance.

Chevy Chase has been hosting Q&As and viewings this holiday season some 33 years after its release.

“You set standards that no family event can ever live up to,” Ellen Griswold. I have absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. Nope. I don’t know anyone who would possibly do that. Ahem. There are so many quotable lines in this movie. I could practically live blog or Tweet this movie.

Affable Clark Griswold (Chase) tries to have the ultimate family Christmas complete with parents, in-laws, and the giant Christmas tree the Griswold’s practically froze to death to cut down after a road rage incident with a pair of pick-up truck driving rednecks.

One disaster leads to another as Clark tries to create the ultimate exterior Christmas light display on his house, not just the roof, but his entire house. The bickering parents show up and Clark climbs the ladder to start stapling strands of lights to the shingles.

From the grandfathers asleep in the easy chairs in the living room (very much a reminder of my Uncle Freddy), Ellen and her daughter Audrey arguing about the sleeping arrangements to Clark’s incessant stapling of lights to the house all leads up to the real slapstick and witty repartee to come. Never mind that Clark falls off the roof twice.

The mayhem projected onto the non-Christmas celebrating next-door-neighbors is comedic gold. Todd and Margo (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are tormented by the Griswold clan and end up fodder for numerous physical comedic tragedies.

Of course, the lights don’t work on the first try and Clark is left astonished and embarrassed. The lights eventually work by accident thanks to Ellen’s mom but more on that in a minute. Clark ends up trapped in the attic and finds a box of home movies and we see where he gets the idea for having the old-fashioned family Christmas.

The lights eventually come on as we watch the electric meter spins out of control. The lights are impressive if you find the sun impressive. But Clark’s dream of an awesome exterior lights display is finally realized much to the chagrin of the local nuclear power plant.

Ellen’s cousin Eddie, his wife, and two of their kids, show up unannounced, Aunt Bethany and Uncle Lewis finally arrive and hilarity ensues. A cat and a Rottweiler wreak havoc throughout the house, a squirrel is discovered in the Christmas tree, and Eddie is…well…Eddie. The “shitter was full” scene where he empties his RV’s chemical toilet into a storm drain while dressed in not much more than a tattered bathrobe cracks me up every time. Eddie’s wife Catherine’s Christmas turkey is bone dry and eats more like bad jerky.

The whole thing ends with a kidnapping as Clark’s boss decides to drop the annual Christmas bonus that Clark was counting on for realizing his dream of installing a swimming pool.

Prior to the committing of a felony, Clark utters my favorite line from any Christmas movie or special. As Clark’s dreams of a swimming pool swirl down the drain and family bickering turns into a knockdown drag-out, Clark proclaims, “We’re going to have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye!”

This movie speaks to me on so many levels; the sledding scene – I spent many a winter’s day sledding back home in New York; the turkey dinner scene – I have unfortunately experienced a Thanksgiving turkey almost that bad once but I won’t speak ill of the dead. Before moving to the Pacific Northwest, we had a house with a swimming pool and 21-foot vaulted ceilings that could accommodate a Griswold tree.

Chevy Chase is at his best, I believe, in this movie and it resonates with me because of so many of the, albeit disjointed, parallels with my own life. There was that one year my wife electrocuted my cat with the Christmas lights, but he survived, unlike Aunt Bethany’s poor cat.

Mom died in 2006, and Dad passed in 2007, so it’s a decade and a half of Christmases without them in my life. I fondly remember all the ones I did have with them and my Aunt and Uncle and my first cousins. My aunt sold Avon so guess what I got – cologne in decorative decanters. But, she passed away in 2009, and you know what? I’d take some Stetson in a Duesenberg decanter in a second.

I would give anything to have another family Christmas with my folks, aunts and uncles, and cousins. This movie reminds me of those days although mine were much more sedate. The funny thing is, I have become Clark Griswold.

12 Days of Knaak Christmas
On the 12th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me A Twilight Zone Episode
On the 11th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me An Animated Classic
On the 10th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me An Incandescent Nose
On the 9th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me A Sweet Backstory
On the 8th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me A Dose of Christmas Spirit
On the 7th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me A Modern Interpretation of A Classic Tale
On the 6th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me A Special Entertainer
On the 5th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me A Dr. Seuss Classic

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