Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Holiday Season Begins

Thanksgiving dinner is behind us now, and the countdown to Christmas is under way.

Which brings me to today's topic. It was 20 years ago today that "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" was released.

There are many movies and TV specials that are holiday favorites. For some people, it wouldn't be Christmas if they didn't watch "Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer" or "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or "It's a Wonderful Life."

Traditionalists will tell you their favorite holiday movies are "Holiday Inn" or "Miracle on 34th Street" or "White Christmas." In recent years, it seems the trendy holiday movie has been "A Christmas Story," but you will find devotees to "Elf" and "The Santa Clause."

For my mother, "We're No Angels," featuring Humphrey Bogart and Peter Ustinov in the mid–1950s, was what put her in a holiday frame of mind. I guess that is a little ironic because another movie by that name (but with a completely different story line and starring Sean Penn and Robert De Niro) came out two weeks after "Christmas Vacation."

(Actually, as anyone who knew her would tell you, it took very little to put Mom in the holiday spirit.)

But, for me, my favorite holiday film has been "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" for the last two decades.

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo returned as Clark and Ellen Griswold for the third installment in the "Vacation" series of films, but they were paired with their third different son and daughter (the children also were recast in the 1985 sequel, "European Vacation"). Randy Quaid reprised his role as Cousin Eddie from the original 1983 film, and so did Miriam Flynn as his wife Catherine.

No matter how many times I see it, the segment in which Clark tries to illuminate his house with Christmas lights always makes me laugh. It's an exaggeration, of course, but, like any good exaggeration, it is based in truth.

Well, exaggeration has always been the specialty of National Lampoon movies. And Chevy Chase's rant about his boss probably hasn't been much of an exaggeration for some folks.

But mixed in with the exaggeration is some real truth.

I can think of few scenes in any holiday movies that capture the feeling of safety and security that comes with Christmas — along with that wistful feeling of missing those who were integral parts of Christmases past and are no longer with us — quite as well as the attic scene from "Christmas Vacation."

When I see Chevy Chase prowling around in the attic, looking for a place to stash Christmas presents, it reminds me of my mother. And when he watches the holiday films he discovers, I am transported back to the Christmases of my childhood, when my mother and my grandparents and our family's closest friends were still with us.

It may be hard to remember at times, but Christmas is about more than commercialism. It's about being with those we love — and remembering those who are gone.

Mixed with the laughter, "Christmas Vacation" does a splendid job of reminding us what's really important at this time of year.