Rich Wilhelm

This Author Makes a Shocking Confession About a Beloved Holiday Institution. But You Won’t Believe What Happens Next.

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2014 at 5:46 am

Merry Christmas to you all! I have a shocking confession to make.

You know that movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? I have a serious dislike for that movie. I attempt to explain my dislike for the Griswold’s and their misadventures in a bit, but I want to state from the outset that I’m not entirely comfortable admitting my lack of enthusiasm. It seems like this has become the Christmas season in which a) Christmas Vacation is being increasingly described as a “modern yuletide classic,” and b) stories about the movie regularly refer to its viewing as a holiday family tradition.

I don’t want to be the weirdo that doesn’t get the parameters of a modern yuletide classic and I don’t want to be the oddball that disses family traditions.

But still: I loathe Christmas Vacation.

It’s not because I lack of sense of humor. I think I have an awesome sense of humor. I don’t generally go for the lowbrow/crude stuff that is on display in Christmas Vacation, but I am in no way philosophically opposed to that type of humor, nor do I begrudge people who like it and who like this movie in particular.

I also do not hate the movie because I don’t like Chevy Chase. I’m not fond of him, but not liking Chevy Chase is just far too easy these days.

Here it is: I just don’t think Christmas Vacation is funny. I didn’t think it was funny years ago and, when I watched a decent chunk of it recently, I was stunned at just how unfunny I still find it.

Also, that home movie part that is supposed to tug at your heartstrings? My heartstrings remain untagged.

Though I use the word “hate” selectively, it’s probably not much of a stretch to say that I hate Christmas Vacation. And I promise you, there is practically nothing you can say to me to reconsider my opinion.

But here is the plot twist:

I love National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I love it because it was one of my grandmother’s favorite movies.

“When I need a good cry, I watch A River Runs Through It,” Grandma used to say. “When I need a good laugh, I watch Christmas Vacation.

From what I remember, Grandma was no fan of Saturday Nite Live and she would occasionally comment on the obnoxiousness of certain movies or songs or pop stars or whatever. Despite what she might have felt about anything else, the Griswolds and their horrid Christmas were A-OK with Grandma. I am certain that there was practically nothing I could have said to her that would have led her to reconsider her opinion.

We agreed to disagree and avoided the subject of this particular movie.

As it happens, Grandma was born on December 24. When I think back on it, in many ways Grandma was the embodiment of Christmas for me. Of course, my parents embodied it as well, but they were working behind the scenes in my early years, with Santa Claus doing most of the heavy lifting, at least in my eyes.

My grandmother’s birthday, though, led to a family Christmas Eve tradition throughout the 1970’s. All of her six children and, as time went on, their spouses, and her two grandchildren would gather at Grandma’s house for a huge gift exchange celebration that was always prefaced with her birthday party.

For me, Christmas and Grandma will always be intertwined. She is always a featured player in the Christmas home movies of my memory, let alone the real movies that Dad shot with the Kodak Cine Scopemeter camera that sits on the shelf just behind me as I type these words. So if Grandma saw in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation a glimpse of just how ridiculous and beautiful this season can be-and, more importantly, if it made her laugh-then I have to give the movie some credit, even though I’m going to try really hard to never, ever watch it again.

Grandma would have been 94 years old today. I say to her, as Loretta Lynn once sang, “Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

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Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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