You like to think you’ve brought your children up well, as evidenced by the annual Christmas card photos. Together, you delivered toys for the poor, dinner for their families, books for their schools, snowsuits for their clothing drives. Your own kids have done it all – visiting Santa, caroling, making paper chains for the tree, and simple surprises for Daddy. There were velvet dresses on the girls and navy blazers on the boys. By Christmas night, you’ve exchanged the gifts, fed the relatives, and listened to the whole big clan’s attempt to make the high note in “O, Holy Night.”
After finally closing the door behind Christmas 2013, you will take off the apron and move enough of the trimmings off the sofa to make room for your little family, now taller than you. None of you has any jingle bell left, not even enough to watch a nice Christmas movie. Besides, you’ve done the wholesome thing. You’ve watched "White Christmas" for so many years that your daughter’s welcome to her new brother-in-law was a warning: “Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister.” You’ve seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” so often that, if you tell your son that you ran into a hometown girl who’s grown up well, he will respond: “She’s not the kind of girl to help me find the answers, Mom.”
Out of necessity, in recent years you have developed a dirty little Christmas night secret, one that’s morphing into an old-fashioned tradition. That would be "National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation," with crazy Clark W. Griswold, aka Chevy Chase and his, um, family.
Mildly crude, slightly mean, with an overwhelmingly PG-13 scatology to it, the 1989 film, while quaint in comparison with the newer holiday movies, doesn’t really fit your Christmas-perfect stereotype. Not on Christmas night, at least, when you’re supposed to feel, well, hushed. But your new tradition places you in good company, apparently. This year "Christmas Vacation" tied for eighth place – with the far more fraught "Miracle on 34th Street" – for favorite holiday movie among those polled by the whattodowiththekids.com parenting website. It similarly bears down on the classic greats on all best Christmas–movie lists.
Maybe elsewhere – as in your house – the Griswold thing crept in during the teenager years when you’d do anything, even watch this, not to have conflict. Now, it actually adds something to the tableau. After all, you may have the sport jackets on for the main event, but, when it’s all said and done, everyone needs a bit of year-end yin with their yuletide yang and this movie delivers.
Now you can embrace the you that you are in your less-than-best moments: the mom who burns the turkey, the teen who sulks in between smirks, the sanctimonious neighbors, the critical in-laws, the odd relations from out of town, a city dweller useless in the company of animals. You can even be the dotty old aunt who unwittingly brings some odd sense of rightness to it all, even if she’s got the holiday wrong. But perhaps most important, you can be like the hapless dad, all heart, who stares down temptation and seemingly inevitable failure and never stops believing he can light up life for his little corner of the world. There's no sonorousness of Bob Wallace’s “Count Your Blessings” in this flick, or the urgency Zuzu’s petals have for George Bailey. Chevy Chase’s very shtick is the man who falls. Here he staggers to his feet again and again, from yet one silly, slapstick holiday disaster to another, to deliver the ultimate Christmas gift: hope.
It’s about all you can muster in those waning hours of Christmas. Well, maybe one last carol: “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light?... “