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Film / National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

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He's definitely going to be feeling that in the morning.

"Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving! Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas! No, no! We're all in this together! This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here! We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tapdanced with Danny Fucking Kaye! And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!"
Clark W. Griswold Jr.

Released in 1989, this third installment in the National Lampoon's Vacation film series was directed by Jeremiah Chechik and cowritten by John Hughes. Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo once again star as Clark and Ellen Griswold, with Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki appearing this time out as Audrey and Rusty respectively.

Clark has decided to host nearly his entire extended family at his house for the holiday season, including his parents (John Randolph and Diane Ladd), his in-laws (E. G. Marshall and Doris Roberts), his senile Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel, in her final role) and cantankerous Uncle Lewis (William Hickey), and his possibly-inbred cousin-in-law Eddie (Randy Quaid). Meanwhile, he is counting on getting a generous Christmas bonus from his boss (Brian Doyle-Murray) to help pay for his surprise present to the family: a backyard swimming pool. As can be expected, everything goes horribly wrong, in the most hilarious manner possible.

The film is notable for being the only entry in the Vacation series to take place at the Griswolds' home. Many consider it to be a classic holiday movie, especially for its chaotic yet not-too-far-off portrayal of family Christmas gatherings.

In 2003, a Made-for-TV sequel entitled National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure was released, which featured Cousin Eddie as the main protagonist, making it more of a Spin-Off than a sequel.

"We're going to have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas tropes ever":

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    Tropes A-M 
  • Absurdly Bright Light: Once Clark gets his house's battery of Christmas lights to work, they turn night into day, blind his neighbors and consume enough power to cause a local blackout.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Clark's boss never gets his name right until the very end.
  • Adaptation Title Change: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation was based on a short story called "Christmas 59".
  • Alcohol Hic: Ellen's mother has one while laughing at Clark's failed lights.
  • AM/FM Characterization: Audrey has a Guns N' Roses poster in her room.
  • Animated Credits Opening: Courtesy of Kroyer Films, showing that even Santa Claus isn't immune to the comic misfortune that permanently surrounds the Griswold family. The opening cartoon show his disastrous attempt to deliver their Christmas presents.
  • The Anti-Grinch: Clark Griswold's over-zealousness to give his family the best experience ever come hell or high water overrides his family's desire to enjoy a simpler experience and completely makes their lives a living hell (not to mention wrecks their house). This only gets worse as he starts undergoing Sanity Slippage — you can see that everybody else in the room seems to fear for a moment that he'll do something worse than just ranting when he declines their proposal to just cut their losses.
  • Artistic License – Cars: The wood panels on Clark's Ford Taurus station wagon were added for the movie, Ford never offered them as a factory option.
  • Artistic License – Economics: The film makes fairly decent points about Clark's boss canceling the Christmas bonuses without telling anyone being a really jerk move. Omitted are any points where it would be an extremely foolish business move as well. Upon arriving back in the office after getting back from Christmas, the company would be experiencing a massive morale loss, resulting in people searching for other jobs and possibly retaliating with embezzlement and other forms of sabotage, and that's possibly with even giving advanced notice (if the company isn't experiencing an economic downturn, and there are no indications that it is, arbitrarily removing bonuses signals ominous signs about future prospects). Deliberately letting employees find out the hard way their salary was unexpectedly cut would have probably led to... bad things for a business. Possibly downplayed by the fact that the film itself seems to be aware of this, with everyone, even the Boss' wife, Calling the Old Man Out on his idiotic, selfish decision.
  • Artistic License – Law:
    • Unless Todd reported Margo punching him in the face to the police in person while they were arriving, the SWAT team had absolutely no reason to bust down their door without a warrant. Fortunately, Rule of Funny is above the law.
    • Like the movie before it, the film gets a happy ending because Mr. Shirley declines to press charges against the Griswold family for kidnapping him (and there is also the implication that everybody In-Universe, even the SWAT Team, is considering him an Asshole Victim the moment he explains why). Like before, the fact that it was an abduction (which involved Eddie breaking and entering Shirley's home, the mobilization of said SWAT team, and collateral damage to Todd and Margo's home that should lead to a lawsuit (to the SWAT team, but still)) means that this call could be off Mr. Shirley's hands.
  • Asshole Victim: Todd and Margo. They may be innocent victims of Clark's mistortunes, but so are they so materialistic, superficial, and insufferably self-absorbed to be unsympathetic victims of the Griswolds' fortunes in turn.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: Clark's rant against his boss after his Berserk Button is pushed and he does a rant full of PG-13 expletives that ends with "Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where's the Tylenol?" Especially notable because the film's one use of the F-bomb is not as loud as this line.
  • Ax-Crazy: Clark kinda gets a little chainsaw happy at the height of his Sanity Slippage. Downplayed in that he doesn't actually hurt anyone.
  • Backhanded Compliment: In one scene, Clark says that Eddie's "heart is bigger than his brain." To which Eddie replies "I appreciate that, Clark."
  • Bad Boss: Mr. Shirley crossed from being a Mean Boss to this when he cut Christmas bonuses without telling his employees, which everyone calls him out on. Clark even says that fair enough if he wanted to do it, even if it'd be a jerk move, it was not telling anyone that was going too far.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The opening minutes make it seem like the Griswolds are going on yet another road trip like the first two movies. It turns out that they're just looking for a Christmas tree to put up in their house, and the film soon switches gears to a Crappy Holidays story instead.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Just as Margo expresses her regret to Todd about their not getting a Christmas tree, the one that Clark cuts down in his yard comes crashing through their window.
  • Berserk Button: When Clark finds out that instead of a check his Christmas bonus is a year-long membership to the Jelly of the Month club, he does not take it well.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Once Clark gets pushed that last bit too far...
  • Bickering Couple, Peaceful Couple: Clark and Ellen have their challenges, no doubt, but their essentially happy marriage is contrasted with yuppie neighbors Todd and Margo, who spend most of their time passive-aggressively sniping at one another.
  • Big Blackout: Clark causes one when he turns his Christmas lights on. For about 10 seconds.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The SWAT team does this in the last act for Mr. Shirley. However, once they learn why he was kidnapped, they change tune:
    SWAT Commander: That's pretty low, mister! If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you into a...
  • Big Damn Kiss: Ellen gives a small peck to Clark at the end of the movie before he pulls her back in for a dramatic kiss to celebrate the success of their family Christmas.
  • Big Eater: Snots the dog and cousin Eddie, the only two not bothered by the inedible turkey.
  • Black Comedy Pet Death: One of the recurring jokes throughout the movie is all the difficulty Clark has with getting the electricity for all the Christmas decorations working right. At one point, Aunt Bethany's cat starts chewing on the Christmas tree light wiring and manages to pull some of the plugs loose. The cat gets electrocuted when Clark plugs the tree back in, and he finds the burnt carcass under a chair.
  • Book Ends: A rare one that doesn't span the entire movie. After it switches from cartoon to live-action and the opening credits song fades out, we hear Clark and Ellen singing the last two lines of "O Come All Ye Faithful" while in their car. As the scenario ends with their car driving away, not only do we hear an instrumental version of the same song, it's only the last two lines.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The sewer that Cousin Eddie dumps his RV's waste down. It later causes a methane bloom that is accidentally ignited at the end of the film.
    • Early in the film, Audrey asks if Clark is going to buy "another stupid Santa tie" and Clark replies that he already has one at home. During the Christmas Eve scenes at the end of the film, Clark is wearing the tie.
  • Bumbling Dad: Clark is a prime example of this trope. He's well-meaning, and he's intelligent enough to have a well-paying white collar job, but every time he tries to create the perfect Christmas for his family, some sort of disaster happens.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Clark, as usual for the Vacation films. Sometimes his misfortune is inflicted on him by others (such as when Ellen's mother closes the attic door to keep the cold air out, unaware that Clark is in the attic), and sometimes he is a victim of his own ambition (such as his wild toboggan ride after he greases it with an experimental non-stick coating), but his disaster magnetism is always played for laughs.
    • The other Griswolds are equally disaster-prone, mostly by being dragged along for the ride by the chaos that follows Clark everywhere.
    • The Griswolds' next door neighbors, Todd and Margo, are collateral damage for many of the misfortunes that Clark creates during the film (see Recurring Extra for details). But they are both shallow, smug, self-absorbed yuppies, so it's hard to feel sorry for them.
  • Call-Back:
    • The prayer Ellen says when Clark drives the car under the tractor trailer bed is similar to the one she said when Clark left the deceased Aunt Edna at her destination in National Lampoon's Vacation.
      Ellen: Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. And forgive my husband. He knows not what he does.
      Clark: Amen!
    • When Uncle Lewis drops his match and ignites the sewer gas, the Santa and reindeer decoration on top of the trash pile get launched into the air, crossing across the moon like the animated Santa did during the animated credits.
  • Captain Obvious: Ellen at the beginning of the film.
    Ellen: Clark, we're stuck under a truck!
    Clark: Do you honestly think that I don't know that?!
  • Cathartic Chores: Audrey and Ellen are in the kitchen cooking for their relatives, both feeling miserable and annoyed by everything that'd happened thus far. Audrey is shown hurriedly peeling a carrot, and when Ellen is called out for smoking a Cigarette of Anxiety by her mother (who isn't even in the same room), she slams a cabbage down on the table and angrily cuts it in half with a single knife-chop.
  • Cheerful Child: Ruby Sue holds out hope that Santa will visit her.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Clark tells Eddie not to let Snots drink the water out of the basin the Christmas tree is standing in, for fear that the tree will dry out. Later, Uncle Lewis' wayward match ignites the tree because it has indeed dried out; either Snots kept drinking the water, or no one bothered to refill it.
    • Cousin Eddie's act of emptying out his RV's toilet into the storm sewer is foreshadowed to have disastrous results... and that's exactly what happens at the end of the film, again courtesy of Uncle Lewis and his lit matches.
  • Christmas Light Chaos: Just about every variation shows up while Clark is decorating the house.
    • First he brings out the light strands to start unwinding them, finds one tangled up in a huge knot, and passes it off to Rusty.
    • Next he puts up an extendable ladder to climb up to the roof, but it collapses under his weight and drops him back to the ground.
    • Then, while securing one strand with a staple gun, he staples his shirt sleeve to the roof and has to rip it off.
    • Later, he loses his footing and slides off the roof, but catches the edge of a gutter to stop himself. The gutter bends under his weight as he tries to reach his ladder, dislodging a chunk of ice that smashes the Chesters' window and destroys their stereo. He eventually falls off and lands in the bushes.
    • Finally he gets all the lights wired up, gathers the family on the lawn...and can't get them to turn on, leaving him humiliated. Ellen realizes that the switch in the garage turns it on... but only after it gets turned on and off multiple times, making her husband angry enough to start kicking and destroying the lawn decorations.
  • Cigar Chomper: Uncle Lewis is rarely seen without a cigar on his person, whether he's smoking or holding it.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Ellen begins smoking while having a minor anxiety attack in the kitchen due to the stress of her parents and Clarke's parents staying in their house. Lampshaded when her mother somehow instantly knows that she's smoking, from the other room, the instant she lights up.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Cousin Eddie, with countless one-liners to back it up.
    Eddie: I don't know if I oughta go sailin' down no hill with nothin' between the ground and my brains but a piece of government plastic.
    Clark: Do you really think it matters, Eddie?
  • Cleavage Window: The blouse that Ellen wears on Christmas Eve has one of these.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Averted with G-rated curses!! "If any of you are looking for any last minute gift ideas for me... I have one."
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • When Rusty tells Clark that the Christmas tree is so big it would not be able to fit in the front yard, Clark remarks that it's being put in the room, not the front yard (though Clark seemed to understand the size issue and did not care).
    • Ruby Sue comments that Rocky's "shittin' bricks" about the upcoming Christmas holiday, and amends it to "shittin' rocks" when Clark reminds her not to talk that way.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • At one point, Clark and Eddie are seen drinking eggnog from Wally World-themed moose-headed cups.
    • In contrast to the Griswold children, Eddie's eldest kids are still the same ones from the first movie, even though we only get to hear about their current exploits. invoked
    • It's a quick moment, but when Rusty catches Clark flirting with Mary, the buxom department store clerk, he shakes his head as if to say, "Here we go again..." perhaps remembering Clark's encounter with the Ferrari girl from the first movie.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The set-up required to get Clark trapped in the attic is this. Clark appears to be trying to up earlier than everyone else to stash Christmas presents in the attic. His mother-in-law then sees the attic ladder extended and decides to close it despite it not being her house and presumably down for a reason, no one hears Clark tromping around the attic or shouting(someone walking around the rafters of an attic can sometimes be quite loud), everyone suddenly being in the car and ready to go to the mall (what happened to Clark being up earlier than everyone else?), and Ellen's father pushing her to drive to the mall without Clark while telling her that Clark can just catch up with them there later (something unthinkable in the pre-cell phone era). Clark then decides the best place to watch his family films is right over the ladder door.
  • Cool Old Guy: Clark Griswold Sr., who's a lot more cheerful and supportive of his son than Grandpa Art.
  • Cool Uncle: Despite his exasperation towards Eddie, Clark bonds with Eddie's daughter, Ruby Sue, largely out of sympathy for being in a family that's too poor to get her Christmas presents.
  • Covers Always Lie: At best, the cover is symbolic of what Clark goes through. He doesn't get electrocuted (the cat does), he doesn't put on a Santa Claus suit (though he tries on a beard and wears the hat and coat on Christmas Eve), and the Christmas lights he puts up are white, not colored.
  • Cranial Plate Ability: Inverted. Eddie used to have a metal plate in his head, but would forget things when his wife turned on the microwave, so it was replaced with plastic. He doesn't believe the plastic is as strong as his skull.
  • Crappy Holidays: That might be an understatement for Clark.
  • Cringe Comedy: As usual of a Vacation movie, but now Clark is embarrassing himself in front of his entire family this time.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Ellen frequently employs this as well as the occasional Aside Glance whenever her family becomes more obnoxious than she can bear.
    • Clark gets in some zingers as well, mostly at Cousin Eddie's expense.
  • Death Glare: Clark gives them to practically everyone in the last act, even his own son.
  • Disco Dan: Eddie still wears leisure suits, even though they went out of style nearly a decade before the movie came out. It is possible that Eddie bought them for cheap at Goodwill so he'd have something "nice" to wear for Christmas.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Thanks to a Rhetorical Request Blunder, Eddie kidnaps Clark's boss, Frank, for not giving Clark a Christmas bonus so expected that every employee considered it part of their salary. Of course, when said bonus was cut out, that meant Clark was bankrupt. Clark actually admits that businesses aren't legally required to give bonuses, but cutting them without telling the employees in advance is 1900s robber baron bullshit.
    • Todd refuses to assault Clark, so Margo goes over to against his wishes resulting in her getting mauled. She responds by punching him square in the face and locking him out of their house.
  • Distracted by the Sexy:
    • Clark is so fixated on the sexy brunette sales clerk showing him her panties that he fails to notice his son is standing right next to him.
    • Also later on when he daydreams about Mary Skinny Dipping in the family's new pool and is too distracted to notice that Ruby-Sue has come up on him until she speak out.
  • The Ditz: Aunt Bethany. Although she's more of a Cloudcuckoolander due to the fact that her comments seem to be a result of old age (and probable senility) rather than genuine stupidity.
    Aunt Bethany: Is this the airport, Clark? Is your house on fire, Clark? Is Rusty still in the navy? I just love riding in cars.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Audrey is skinning a carrot with a knife as she's complaining about having to sleep in the same bed as her brother.
    • While shopping with Clark, Uncle Eddie says, "Your company kill all them people in India not too long ago?" He may be referring to the Bhopal disaster, a massive gas leak at a pesticide plant that occurred in 1984.
  • Driving a Desk: It's obvious that during the sled scene, some up-close shots of Clark have a back-projected background. Doesn't make it any less funny, though.
  • Drum Roll, Please When Clark has the whole family come out into the front yard to watch him plug in/turn on the outdoor Christmas lights he put up, he asks for a drum roll. He has to ask again before Ellen gets the idea and leads the others in a silly prolonged A Capella drum roll with an actual drum roll for background music. Clark joins in before finally plugging in the cords... and nothing happens. The background noise switches to a cymbal falling over.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Uncle Lewis shows up in Clark's old home movie before later arriving at the Griswold house with Aunt Bethany.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: By the end of the film, Clark has received his Christmas bonus and the family has all gathered to enjoy the holiday in spite of Clark and Ellen's destroyed home.
    Clark: I did it.
  • Eat My Dust: Clark Griswold accidentally mixes the idioms "eat my dust" and "burn rubber".
    Clark Griswold: I'm going to pull around them... Burn some dust here. Eat my rubber!
    Rusty Griswold: Dad, I think you mean burn rubber and eat my dust.
    Clark Griswold: Whatever, Russ.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: After Uncle Lewis accidentally burns down Clark Griswold's Christmas tree from chain-smoking cigars, Clark desperately wants to continue to have a perfect family Christmas by chopping down a pine tree in his own front yard, smashing his neighbor's window in the process. Unfortunately... things turn out worse with a squirrel (not a mouse) popping out of the new tree, scaring everyone throughout the house. Clark Griswold tries to catch it in his Santa coat and smack it with a hammer. Just as Margo enters the house to complain, the squirrel latches onto her chest and Eddie's dog Snots tackles her and it right back out the front door. Clark calmly tells the family, "Gone!"
  • Elderly Ailment Rambling: When Clark and Ellen's parents arrive for the big family Christmas, the Griswolds are "treated" to a chorus of complaints about spinal taps, moles, and hemorrhoids.
  • Erotic Dream: In one scene, Clark has a daydream where he pictures his extended family enjoying the swimming pool he plans to build (even Cousin Eddie is there). But a couple of minutes into the daydream, the family members vanish and are replaced by Mary, who smiles seductively at Clark and beckons him to join her before she decides to go skinny dipping.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Clark's in-laws have no respect for him and take every opportunity to put him down, but when Clark opens his letter to find he got a membership to a Jelly-of-the-Month club instead of the Christmas bonus he long sought after, they both look genuinely disappointed and saddened for him.
    • Everyone who learns that Mr. Shirley not only chose to stop paying Christmas bonuses but did so without telling anyone in advance — not just the entire Griswold clan, but also Shirley's spoiled and pampered wife, and even the police SWAT commander who blasted through Clark's front door — believes it justifies abducting and haranguing him, if not more.
      Mr. Shirley: Remember how I was toying with the notion of suspending Christmas bonuses?
      Mrs. Shirley: (angrily) You didn't. Of all the cheap lousy ways to save a buck!
      SWAT commander: (angrily) That's pretty low, mister! If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you...
      Mr. Shirley: I CHANGED MY MIND!! I'm reinstating all the bonuses.
    • Margo orders Todd to go over to the Griswolds and punch Clark in the face for accidentally breaking their window, but Todd refuses by pointing out that doing so will provoke the other Griswolds and their relatives to press charges for assault. However, Margo doesn't care and decides to do it herself, though this resulted Eddie's dog Snots to brutally maul Margo while catching a squirrel with his jaws.
      Margo: You just march over there and SLUG that creep in the face!
      Todd: (angrily) I can't just attack someone!
      Margo: (angrily) All right, then, if you're not man enough to put an end to this shit, then I AM!!
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Ellen has a sudden moment of clarity after Clark's latest attempt to turn the Christmas lights on fails, realizing just what it is that's keeping them off. She's able to flip the switch just in time for him to plug them in again.
  • Fantasy Sequence: Late at night, Clark stairs out at the backyard, imagining his entire family (including Eddie, Catherine, and their kids) having fun in the new pool while Bing Crosby's Mele Kalikimaka plays. And then Eddie is replaced with Mary, the lingerie saleslady.
  • Finagle's Law: Like the rest of the series, Christmas Vacation runs off this trope.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: In the distant shot showing off the Griswold house's excessive amount of Christmas lights, you can see Cousin Eddie's RV already parked in their driveway (which a first-time viewer is very likely to miss, just like the Griswolds do). About five minutes later, after they've gotten the lights working properly and Clark is going to each relative to share some holiday sentiment, he's taken by surprise to see that Eddie and his family have shown up unannounced.
  • Floorboard Failure: A justified variant when Clark is trapped in the attic. He deliberately steps between the rafters rather than on them, so his weight is supported only by sheetrock which, unsurprisingly, eventually gives in.
  • Freak Out: Clark goes through a very memorable one after all the maladies of his Humiliation Conga pile up.
  • Freudian Slip: "We needed a coffin — I mean a tree."
  • Freudian Slippery Slope: The mall scene where Clark is talking to the buxom sales clerk:
    • "I was just smelling — smiling! I was just blous — browsing..."
    • "Yeah, it is a bit nipply out."
  • From Bad to Worse: It's already bad enough that Clark's extended family tries to leave, but then when Cousin Eddie shows up with Clark's boss Mr. Shirley, it definitely gets worse from there.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Ruby Sue Johnson. Some of her quotes:
    • "Sorry. Shittin' rocks."
    • From the same scene: "Sometimes I think all that Santa crap is just bull. If he was so real, how come we didn't get squat last year? We didn't do nothin' wrong, and we still got the shaft."
  • Funny Background Event: As the family is leaving for lunch at the mall, when Clark is stuck in the attic, the view shows that Todd and Margo have already had the window, that Clark broke just the night before, fixed already. To get glazers out overnight shows just how snobbish they are.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: When the movie was released in the UK, the middle word in "Danny FUCKIN' Kaye!" was changed to "DANCIN'" to get a PG rating. The Blu Ray is uncensored, but is still rated PG; while standards change, the guidelines at the time still only allowed "mild bad language" in a PG release.
  • Genre Savvy: Todd, watching Clark put up Christmas lights:
    Margo: I hope he falls and breaks his neck.
    Todd: Oh, I'm sure he'll fall, but I don't think we're lucky enough to have him break his neck.
  • Gift Shake: Clark Griswold shakes one of Aunt Bethany's gifts after Rusty brings it to his parents and announces that the box is meowing:
  • The Grinch: The snooty Yuppie neighbors, Todd and Margo, eschew a Christmas tree — and, apparently, the holiday itself — on the grounds that it's "dirty and messy and corny and clichéd".
  • Grumpy Old Man: Grandpa Art and Uncle Lewis. As far as the former is concerned, nothing Clark does is ever good enough. As far as the latter is concerned, nothing anyone does is ever good enough.
  • Happily Married: Although Clark does have an Erotic Dream about Mary (the sales clerk at the lingerie store), he and Ellen seem to love each other very much.
  • Hate Sink: Despite not being particularly bad or antagonistic, Todd and Margo are a couple of condescending, materialistic yuppies that are rude to everyone (even with each other) and lack any sympathetic traits. They basically exist so bad things can happen to them.
  • Heel Realization/Heel–Face Turn: Happens to Mr. Shirley after Clark gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech for canceling employee Christmas bonuses without telling them. Not only does this convince Mr. Shirley to reinstate the Christmas bonuses, but he tells Clark to add 20% to whatever he made last year (causing Clark to faint in disbelief).
  • Hockey Mask and Chainsaw: Clark when cutting the Christmas tree down to size.
  • Homeschooled Kids: Ruby-Sue & Rocky seem to be this, especially since Ruby-Sue uses "him" instead of "he" when talking about her brother and mentions that the house is "always parked in the same place."
  • Hope Spot: As things go From Bad to Worse at home, a courier suddenly shows up at Clark's door with an envelope from his boss. Clark thinks he's finally getting his Christmas bonus... only to find out that it's a year-long membership to the Jelly of the Month Club.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Ellen's mother is briefly seen smoking while helping put together a gingerbread house. Two scenes later, she loudly chastises Ellen from off-camera for lighting up a Cigaretteof Anxiety.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: After receiving his "bonus", the first thing Clark does is is fill a heaping cup of eggnog and immediately drain it. It only seems to make him angrier.
  • Ignorant About Fire: Uncle Lewis has a bad habit of tossing aside the match he uses to light his cigar, while it's still burning. He burns up the Christmas tree this way, but thoroughly fails to notice it or the fact that the back of his suit has caught fire.
  • Impact Silhouette: Santa makes one in the roof in the animated opening credits while trying to escape the house. He was aiming for the skylight, but missed.
  • Innocent Bystander: Todd and Margo may be obnoxious jerks, but the stuff that happens to them is just because they live next door.
  • Ironic Echo Cut:
    • A non-verbal version with Todd and Margo discussing celebrating the holiday after all, then wondering where they'll find a tree so late on Christmas Eve. Cue Clark's replacement tree smashing through a nearby window.
    • Followed by Clark telling Ellen that there are no lots open so late on Christmas Eve.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Clark is driven insane by the sequence of events in the movie, but he bends over backwards to accommodate the bizarre group of diverse personalities in his extended family, and he just wants to have a nice, family holiday together. Meanwhile, he's going through stress issues at work and doing everything he can to support his family. Eventually, he snaps.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Clark, as per usual, caves under the stress of his situations and (once again) fantasizes about another woman. Nevertheless, he still cares deeply about his family and is Happily Married.
    • Russ and Audrey are both Deadpan Snarkers who complain about their father's antics and having to share their living space with nosy relatives. Despite that, they clearly love their parents and have plenty of moments where they bond with or stick up for him.
    • At first, Frank Shirley appears to be nothing more than a Rich Bastard and a Mean Boss, who can't even be bothered to remember Clark's name and— most glaringly— cuts all the employee's holiday bonuses without warning them beforehand. However, after witnessing the Griswold family's distress and realizing how the lack of bonuses can affect someone's livelihood, he not only reinstates the bonuses, but gives Clark an extra 20%. It helps that Shirley is implied to also be Happily Married to his wife.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: Unlike the previous two films, Clark's family doesn't travel away from their home to vacation at a destination, instead the Griswold extended family comes to Clark's home for Christmas.
  • Long List: Clark Griswold's terms for his boss (see Rage Breaking Point for the transcript).
  • Made of Explodium: The tree, the sewer gas, and that crazy lubricant stuff Clark greased up his sled with.
  • Marching Mooks In Suits: Mr. Shirley's first scene has him being followed by a bundle of executives in lock-step.
  • Mistaken for Santa: Downplayed. Clark is standing in the living room, wearing a red coat, and gazing out the window. Ruby Sue can't sleep and wanders the house, finding him in the middle of his swimming pool fantasy, and assumes he's Santa before he turns around. After he tells her he's not Santa, and the two have a talk about how she should continue to believe in Santa, she turns to leave, only to ask if he's really sure he's not Santa. He tells her no, and then mutters to himself that he "can't even afford to be an elf".
  • Mood Whiplash: Just when we were about to close the movie off with a heartwarming moment, Uncle Lewis blows it all up in flames (literally) by saying:
    Uncle Lewis: That ain't the frickin' Christmas star, Griz, that's the light on the sewage treatment plant!
  • The Mountains of Illinois:
    • Seen in the opening scene at the Christmas tree farm and the trip to there. The shots in question were in fact done in Summit County, Colorado.
    • Also seen during the famous sledding scene.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Mary, the buxom brunette sales clerk at the lingerie counter (who shows up again in Clark's Fantasy Sequence), is played by model and former Playboy Playmate Nicolette Scorsese (who, in case you're wondering, is not related to Martin Scorsese). Clark imagines her in (and slowly out of) a sexy red swimsuit, and part of her sales pitch involves showing off how well her lace thong fits.
  • Mundane Utility: Clark uses an extremely advanced experimental lubricant to grease up his sled. It doesn't work out so well. One could argue that it worked too well...
  • Mythology Gag: The home movie that Clark watches in the attic is labelled "Christmas '59", which is also the name of the John Hughes short story that inspired this film.

    Tropes N-Z 
  • Non-Indicative Name: An interesting case. The movie opens with the Griswolds on a car trip, indicating it would be a road movie like the first film; however, they're just driving way into the wilderness to get a tree, and aren't actually going on vacation. However, the relatives are technically going on vacation by staying at the Griswold's for an extended period, and the term "Staycation" can apply to the Griswolds themselves.
  • Noodle Implements: When even one of the SWAT team members calls Mr. Shirley out for not giving Clark a bonus.
    SWAT Member: That's pretty low, mister! If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you into a...
  • Noodle Incident: Ellen, at one point, points out to Clark that his family vacation plans never really go well. We, of course, know this already from the first two "Vacation" movies, but then Ellen mentions that Clark has made messes of weddings and funerals in the past. A shame we never got to see those instances...
  • Nostalgia Filter: Clark's motivation throughout the film is to provide the perfect family Christmas just like the ones he had as a kid. After Clark goes through his Heroic BSoD following one too many catastrophes, his Dad reminds him that, contrary to what he remembered, there were several mishaps during those Christmases as well.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Ellen's parents to Clark. They will never miss an opportunity to put Clark down.
  • Oddball in the Series: The only Vacation movie to depict the Griswold family vacationing at home rather than traveling somewhere. Tropes Are Tools, since this departure from the formula allows for a unique story with lots of fresh setups for humor, yet still fits with the series' running theme of a well-meaning but bumbling family man's holiday plans turning to crap.
  • Oh, Crap!: Clark wears several of these expressions during the film.
    • The Griswolds finally find the perfect Christmas tree after a long trek in the freezing cold. Then Rusty pipes up: "Dad, did you bring a saw?"
    • Clark goes into the attic before anyone else is awake to hide his Christmas gifts. Then he hears Ellen's mother, wondering where the cold air is coming from, close the trap door behind him...
  • Only Sane Woman: Ellen is about the only normal and consistently level-headed person in the family.
  • Over-the-Top Christmas Decorations: Clark covers the entire house in lights. Literally, the entire house. They're evenly spread across the exterior walls. When he turns them on, the power plant has to activate an emergency power supply to keep things going.
  • Pet the Dog: Metaphorically, Clark finally getting his bonus. Literally, the movie ends with Clark petting Snot as the credits roll.
  • Precision F-Strike: As Clark's sanity reaches its limit near the end of the film, so does the movie's PG-13 rating.
    Clark: Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving! Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas! No, no! We're all in this together! This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here! We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tapdanced with Danny fucking Kaye! And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!

  • Pretty in Mink: Mrs. Shirley wears a fox coat over her nightgown when the police take her to where her husband was kidnapped.
  • Product Placement: Ol' Roy dog food. And Clark's little misfortune with the sled and the super-grease ends with him crashing with a trash disposal in a Walmart parking lot.
  • Rage Breaking Point: After all the problems of Christmas Eve, including having no money in the bank, Clark finally snaps when the boss stiffs him on his Christmas bonus.
    Clark: Ahh... hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people. And I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! HALLELUJAH, and HOLY SHIT! Where's the Tylenol?
  • Rake Take: A variation involving loose floorboards in the attic instead of a rake.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Clark gives one to his boss, Mr. Shirley, for canceling Christmas bonuses and not even having the decency to tell his employees.
  • Recurring Extra: Clark's smug yuppie neighbors Todd and Margo Chester repeatedly get caught in the crossfire of the various Griswold family mishaps. When Clark is putting up the lights and almost falls off the roof, the ice in the gutter shatters the Chesters' upstairs window and blows up their stereo. When the lights finally turn on successfully, the Chesters are almost blinded and keep knocking over their furniture as they try to regain their bearings. When Clark cuts down the second tree, it crashes through the Chesters' dining room window. Margo chooses to confront Clark just as he and the rest of the family are fleeing the squirrel in their tree, and before she can knock on the door, Clark opens it to let both the squirrel and Eddie's dog Snot fly straight into her. Finally, the SWAT team descending on the Griswolds' house after Frank Shirley is kidnapped also kick in the door of the Chesters' house.
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: Clark reacts to the news that he received a subscription to a Jelly-of-the-Month Club in lieu of a Christmas Bonus from his boss by ranting that he wished the boss was right there so he could chew him out. His cousin-in-law promptly jumps into his RV and kidnaps said boss.
  • Rich Bitch: Subverted. Mrs. Shirley seems to be this at first, as we see her preening and primping in her car before coming into the Griswolds' house. However, we find that she's genuinely relieved that her husband is OK, and reveals herself to have a strong moral compass with her disgust for Mr. Shirley's cutting of the bonuses.
    • Played straight with Clark's yuppie neighbor Margo.
  • Rule of Funny: A lot of the things that go wrong operate in this manner instead of how they would in real life. How, for example, does an icicle trapped in the Griswold's gutter gain enough momentum to shoot through the air into Todd and Margo's window? Because it brings them pain.
  • Sanity Slippage: Clark goes through one, completely justified in his Heroic BSoD later on.
  • The Scrooge: Clark's Mean Boss, Mr. Shirley, who suspends Clark's Christmas bonus in lieu of a membership to a Jelly-of-the-Month club. Clark points out during his rant that if Mr. Shirley wants to do that it's fine by him, but he could have at least given his employees some prior warning so they could figure out what to do now that they lacked that. Notably however (and much like Scrooge) when forced to face the consequences of his decisions by Clark, he sincerely acknowledges he made 'a bad call', reinstates the bonus on the spot and does not press charges against Clark after the SWAT team arrive.
  • Senior Sleep-Cycle: According to the DVD commentary, the grandparents had a side bet going during filming as to who could appear asleep on screen most often.
  • Sexy Surfacing Shot: While fantasizing about his new pool, Clark imagines Mary stripping off her one-piece and going Skinny Dipping and soon after there is a shot of her coming out of the pool... but then his fantasy gets interrupted by Ruby before he sees anything more than Shoulders-Up Nudity.
  • Shamed by a Mob: Clark's boss is treated to a collective Death Glare from the Griswolds and their extended relatives, all of them disgusted by how he suspended the usual Christmas bonuses and gave none of his employees advanced notice. Not just in Clark's case, but because a lot of people usually need them. Seeing the actual end result of his attempt to save money makes Mr. Shirley realize it was a shitty thing to do, and he decides to reinstate them with a considerable increase.
  • Silly Prayer: Aunt Bethany, Clark's aunt who is senile, instead of doing the usual Christmas dinner prayer, does the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Slasher Smile: Clark sports a rather rictus grin in the last act once his sanity starts slippin'.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Here Comes Santa Claus" plays while the entire police force starts gathering up en masse outside the Griswold house.
  • Spit Take: Clark gags on his eggnog when Eddie casually mentions that he plans on staying until sometime into January.
  • Stepford Smiler:
    • Clark, at the start of the last act.
    • Eddie to a degree. He pretends that everything is alright when, in reality, he's unemployed and he and his family are living in an RV.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Courtesy of Uncle Louis tossing his match at the gas-filled sewer.
  • Tag Line: Yule crack up!
  • That Poor Cat: Aunt Bethany brought her cat to the party—by wrapping it up in a Christmas present in her senility. Unfortunately, even when it gets out, it ends up getting obliterated when it electrocutes itself chewing on a Christmas light cord, leaving nothing but bits of fur and a scorched outline under Clark's chair.
    Cousin Eddie: If that thing had nine lives...she just spent them all.
  • Theme Music Abandonment: The only film in the series not to feature "Holiday Road" by Lindsey Buckingham. It instead features the equally-memorable "Christmas Vacation" by Mavis Staples.
  • The Unfavorite: Oddly enough, Ellen's father is shown to be much more approving of Cousin Eddie (the unemployed idiot who has his family living in an RV) than of Clark (who has provided Ellen with an upper-middle class lifestyle). Clark's treatment of Aunt Edna's (Frances or Art's sister) corpse in the first movie probably has something to do with it.
  • Toplessness from the Back: When Mary strips out of her one-piece swimsuit in Clark's fantasy, she has her back to the camera, so the audience doesn't see anything other than her bareback and some Sideboob.
  • Twitchy Eye: Clark starts blinking uncontrollably after Art calls him "goofy".
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Margo's very last scene in the movie has her being surrounded by SWAT officers who have her at gunpoint, leaving us to wonder about the aftermath (if either she got arrested or shot to death).
  • X-Ray Sparks: Happens when Santa Claus gets electrocuted by the lights in the animated opening credits.
  • Yuppie: Todd and Margo Chester, being childless newlywed professionals with a lot of money to spend on themselves and on various toys and trends of The '80s.


Christmas Vacation

The animated opening to a famous holiday comedy.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / AnimatedCreditsOpening

Media sources: