An Old-Fashioned Griswold Christmas

By MS. RITA HESS, Staff Writer

Have you ever seen the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? In this holiday classic, Chevy Chase portrays Clark Griswold, an all-American dad who wants to provide an old-fashioned Christmas for his family, when comedic disaster repeatedly strikes. Watching him and his wife Ellen, daughter Audrey, and son Russ (along with a few other relatives) has become one of my favorite things to do in the holiday season!

Even though Clark has some difficulties transforming his image of the “perfect” Christmas into reality—and it is, after all, just a movie—we can learn a little something from some of the disastrous events that thwarted his efforts.


For starters, Clark waited until what seemed like late in the season to begin his holiday preparations, especially since he wanted so desperately to impress his loved ones. DON’T be like Clark. Start early so you do not feel rushed (and then tempted to take shortcuts)!

PRETTY ≠ SAFEThe National Safety Council ( cautions that emergency rooms see thousands of injuries involving holiday decorating every season.“Angel hair,” made from spun glass, can irritate your eyes and skin; always wear gloves or substitute non-flammable cotton.Spraying artificial snow can irritate your lungs if inhaled; follow directions carefully.Decorate the tree with your kids in mind; move ornaments that are breakable or have metal hooks toward the top.Always use a proper stepladder; don’t stand on chairs or other furniture.When decorating with lights, make sure there are no exposed or frayed wires, loose connections or broken sockets; and don’t overload your electrical circuits.Plants can spruce up your decorating, but keep those that may be poisonous (including some poinsettias) out of reach of children or pets. The national Poison Control Center can be reached at (800) 222-1222.Make sure paths are clear so no one trips on wrapping paper, decorations, toys, etc.THE TREE

Their chosen tree was very large (okay, it was huge) when it stood so majestically in nature. However, the family’s lack of tools to cut it down, followed by their attempt to uproot the darn thing and strap it to the car, spelled disaster from the beginning. When they finally arrived home, the issue was getting it inside and making it fit in the allotted space. DON’T be like Clark. Before you shop (preferably on a tree lot rather than in the country), measure your allotted space and think ahead about how to get the tree home safely.


That poor Griswold family … and that poor squirrel! If you are buying a real tree, inspect it for critters (e.g., rodents, birds, bugs) before bringing it indoors. If the Griswold’s had done that, perhaps they would have found that furry thing living in the branches before it ran wild in their home. Again, DON’T be like Clark!


Their cat added to the movie’s hilarity by dangerously gnawing on a string of lights. No feline was harmed during the filming of the scene and electrocution is uncommon, but animals do sometimes chew on cords in real life. DON’T be like Clark. Be sure your cords are in good shape with no exposed wires, and arrange them so they do not pose a danger to pets OR a human trip hazard. If you have new pets, don’t allow them near decorations until you know how they will respond.


Adding fuel to the Griswold fire (no pun intended), Clark improperly attached thousands of lights inside and outside the house—plugging one string to the next and the next—including for the Santa and eight tiny reindeer on the lawn. He also used hammers and staples to attach cords instead of clips. If you want to live to see another Christmas, DON’T be like Clark. Instead, be smart about connecting electrical items, and follow manufacturers’ instructions for all decorative elements. Also, use ladders appropriately and carefully year round.

HOME FIRES SPIKE IN DECEMBERAccording to National Fire Protection Association ( research, candles start more than one-third of home decoration fires, and 42 percent of decoration fires happen because the decorations are too close to a heat source. To prevent a problem during your Christmas celebration (or any time of year):Never leave burning candles unattended or sleep in a room with a lit candle.Keep candles out of reach of children and pets.Make sure candles are on stable surfaces away from trees, curtains, or other flammable items.Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.Do not burn trees, wreaths, or wrapping paper in the fireplace.Check and clean the chimney and fireplace area at least once a year.Test your smoke alarms regularly, and tell guests about your home fire escape plan.THE HOLIDAY BONUS

Poor Clark had good intentions when he decided to give his family a swimming pool for Christmas. He ordered it and planned to pay for it with his Christmas bonus. Unfortunately, that bonus didn’t come, and didn’t come, and didn’t come. Even on Christmas Eve, Clark still felt sure a courier would ring the doorbell at any time and deliver his check. Turns out, his boss gave all employees a Jelly of the Month Club membership instead. DON’T be like Clark—don’t overspend and don’t finance large purchases in hopes of a possible windfall. As corny as it may sound, that is not what the holidays are about anyway.


Finally, let’s celebrate something the movie got right. It opened December 1, 1989, but did not take the top spot at the box office for three weeks. Despite mixed reviews, it reportedly earned over $70 million in theatres, and many people continue to love it today.