Every household that actively celebrates Christmas seems to have that one film that you can anticipate having on the television nearly 24/7 as the holiday grows closer and closer. At times, an unspoken tradition that just happens to naturally materialize itself on all screens of the house just in time to remind you of the Christmas days of yesteryear, where your inability to sleep was due to pure excitement and not an undiagnosed sleep disorder. What’s that one movie for you?
For me, it’s the ridiculous National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
This zany, over the top, sometimes poorly aged film has been a staple in my household every Christmas. Typically our Christmas Eve nights would have us leave the holiday church service (the only service where I didn’t struggle to stay awake), return home and throw on this Christmas comedy. I first saw this film when I was way too young to get some of the adult jokes, but I loved it nonetheless. As I’ve grown older the love for this movie has only increased, having now seen it dozens of times. Next to Elf, I think it’s the funniest holiday movie out there, instantly quotable and eternally relatable.
If the “National Lampoon” title confuses you a bit, here’s a little history lesson. National Lampoon was an American humor magazine that ran from 1970 to 1998. The magazine eventually transitioned into other forms of media, from television to radio to film. The magazine gave many incredible comedy talents their springboard into notoriety, including Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Bill Murray. Their first film, National Lampoon’s Animal House, was a smash hit and quickly became the most successful comedy at the time. Follow ups included the Chevy Chase-led Vacation series, starting with the successful National Lampoon’s Vacation in 1983 and the not-so-successful National Lampoon’s European Vacation in 1985. However, I believe gold was struck with 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which was based on screenwriter John Hughes’ short story “Vacation 58′” that he had written for the magazine.
Christmas Vacation follows the Griswold family, a loving but occasionally volatile family played by a seemingly constant rotation of actors from film to film. The patriarch of the family is Clark Griswold, portrayed by Chevy Chase. His family is tasked with hosting a slew of extended family for Christmas, and Clark will do everything in his power to make this the holiest, jolliest Christmas the family has ever seen, even if it kills him. Constantly standing in his way is everything from short-circuiting Christmas lights to his sloppy and overly cheerful cousin Eddie. What keeps Clark going is the impending arrival of his Christmas bonus, which he plans to use to put in a swimming pool. As the holiday grows closer and his bonus is yet to arrive, the stress of the season begins to weigh on Clark, slowly chipping away at his sanity.
This film is peak Chevy Chase and National Lampoon writing. Known for playing a snarky wise guy, Chevy’s Clark Griswold never comes off as too much of jerk to get behind, but refrains from being a squeaky clean Christmas protagonist as well. The range of comedy resonating from him varies from over the top reactions to hilarious one-liners muttered under his breath, all to great effect. We love to see him succeed as much as we love to see him get kicked around by his family and friends. As Clark begins to grow more unhinged, the entertainment value only increases, crescendoing into an expletive laced rant on Christmas Eve that perfectly encapsulates the stress we all can feel around the season that’s supposed to be about joy and merriment.
The simultaneous joy and bane of Clark’s existence is his family. While his loving wife Ellen, played by Beverly DiAngelo, and his impressionable kids Audrey and Russ attempt to keep him grounded, it’s the colorful cast of in-laws and relatives that ruthlessly drive Clark up the wall. Clark’s senile Aunt Bethany constantly confusing her surroundings and his grumpy Uncle Lewis accidentally committing arson get under his skin, but nothing compares to the stress and embarrassment Clark suffers from the arrival of Cousin Eddie. Played by Randy Quaid, Eddie is a messy but well-meaning trailer dweller that drops in on Clark’s Christmas unannounced and uninvited. Falling on hard times, Eddie still does what he can to make Clark happy, other than leaving, which is probably what Clark wants the most. Eddie reminds us of that one relative that tends to overstay their welcome, gets a little bit too cozy in your home, and says some of the most asinine things. Despite the rough exterior, we still love them deep down (we think).
The humor of Christmas Vacation is a blend of slapstick and general absurdity, a very on-brand style for the magazine. When the filmmakers aren’t physically abusing Clark by tumbling off the roof or nearly killing his family on the way to get a Christmas tree, the film relies on painfully relatable family interactions that manage to consistently hit home. There’s a bit of dated humor, as there were a lot of jokes from the time that just boiled down to a husband lusting after a younger woman. While the film can feel a bit cynical at times, there’s an undeniable love and care for the spirit of the holiday behind it. You can tell how much it means to Clark, whether it be him watching old family videos in the attic or talking with his dad about how he just wants one holiday without a disaster. By the end, no amount of exploding cats or runaway squirrels is enough to hinder his love for Christmas, even if he’s not super stable by the end.
I continue to love this movie as I get older, which has honestly been hard to say about some of these other films I’ve talked about this month. The visual gags and quotes are still as funny as they’ve ever been, and the atmosphere the film exudes is just the right amount of holiday cheer to get me looking forward to Christmas again. It’s a film I hope to continue to watch with my own future kids, but until then, I’m perfectly fine with living in the bliss that I won’t have to worry about housing family, stringing up 250,000 lights, and having a SWAT team bust into my house for apparent kidnapping for at least a few more years.
“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out in the middle of nowhere, leave you for dead?”
Eggnog is a staple of both the Christmas season and the Griswold household. Loved by Eddie and consumed by a a manic Clark Griswold losing his mind over his “Christmas bonus”, eggnog is typically a blend of milk and eggs, creating a creamy, frothy drink that fits right in with the season. It can be made both with or without alcohol, but come on, we know which kind you’re here for. Finally, this is a drink meant to be made and NOT bought in a carton from the store. There’s just no way around it.
This recipe marks The Martini Shot’s first foray into a batch cocktail, as this recipe can serve quite a few people. If you’d like to make this a single serving, feel free to bump the recipe down accordingly. So grab your punch bowls, your mixing devices, your glass moose mugs and your subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club, cause we got some eggnog to make that’s so good that the Cousin Eddie in your life may never leave. Additionally, boozy eggnog can keep surprisingly well, sometimes even up to a year. It’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year round, Clark!
- 2oz bourbon
- 2oz rum
- 4 eggs (whites and yolks separated)
- 1 tbsp and 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 cup milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Garnish: Whipped cream
- Garnish: Nutmeg
- Add egg whites and 1 tbsp of sugar to a bowl and use either a whisk or stand mixer to whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks begin to form (glossy mounds that stand straight up).
- Set mixture aside, placing in a new bowl if using a stand mixer.
- In a different bowl, whip together the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar until the mixture lightens in color.
- Add your milk, cream, liquor, salt and vanilla extract and continually whip to combine. If using a stand mixer, run it on slow for about a minute to combine.
- Fold in the egg whites slowly until the mixture reaches a creamy consistency.
- Pour mixture into your mug/glass of choice and garnish with whipped cream and a dusting of nutmeg.