An Ode to Clark Griswold, My Butch Holiday Icon

I need to discuss something very disturbing with you, dear readers. Did you know that today is December 6th? Did you also know that I reside in Boston, Massachusetts? Did you also know that it was 60 degrees here yesterday? 60. Six zero. In December. In Boston. In this realm of existence. Might I remind you that this is after we had a friggin’ snowstorm Halloween weekend? I think that, perhaps, the wildly-misinterpretated Mayan calendar may be right after all and 2012 is it. The end. Fin. So I suppose if next year we’re all gonna die in a firey tornado-tsunami (tornami?) filled with ice and wolves and meteors, I really should make the most out of Christmas 2011.

In this spirit of celebration/impending doom (which I guess could be the spirit of any holiday that involves family), I’d like to dedicate this post to the greatest character from the greatest Christmas movie of all time: Clark Griswold of the classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

As you know, I’m usually all for respectful debate over the internet, but this is an exception. Please don’t try to argue that Christmas Vacation is not the greatest Christmas movie of all time. This is simply a fact. Yes, Home Alone and Elf and Muppet Christmas Carol are awesome movies too, don’t get me wrong. But, much like the Highlander, there can be only one superior holiday film and this one’s the champ. Cry me a sea of swirly, twirly gumdrops, Buddy.

While I’ve loved Christmas Vacation since my parents decided I was old enough to watch it (sometime in high school, I believe), my deep appreciation for the patriarch of the Griswold clan manifested much later, after I began to identify as butch. While watching it during one of my trips home during college (I can’t remember which year it was exactly – maybe Junior?), I suddenly found myself thinking: “This is the kind of parent I want to be. These are the kinds of things that I want to do for my family someday.” A rather bizarre thought for a 22-year-old who was terrible with kids (and at 27, small children still make me nervous), but there it was. I wanted to be the Clark Griswold of my make-believe fun old-fashioned family Christmas.

Someday, I too will raise Juliette Lewis.

Anybody who has the pleasure of being around me this time of year will notice that I’m a tad bit, um, into Christmas. By “into,” I mean I start trolling eBay for Ugly Christmas Sweaters around October, go an hour out of my way to find a Trader Joe’s and purchase Peppermint Joe-Joe cookies (SO GOOD), obsessively organize my Christmas Cheer iTunes playlist, plan entire evenings around looking at neighborhood holiday lights, and have a small nervous breakdown if the tree doesn’t get decorated the weekend after Thanksgiving. Just a small one. OK, maybe a medium-sized one. Maybe, just maybe, I can be a bit of a Christmas Nazi. It’s just, there’s so much to do and the season is so short and I want time to enjoy it; is that so wrong of me?


The great irony here is that I’m an atheist. A very firm one at that. Devout, even. Sometimes, people don’t understand how an atheist can love Christmas so much. Some might say, “You can’t have Christmas without Christ,” to which I reply with the popular-on-Facebook retort, “And you can’t have Thursday without Thor!” Just as I don’t have to believe in the God of Thunder to have a great fifth day of the week (though, as a Marvel fan, I am rather fond of him), I don’t have to believe in 8 lb. 6 0z. newborn infant Jesus to have myself a merry little Christmas. I love decorations and cards and carols and gingerbread and snowmen and Rankin/Bass stop-motion cartoons and giving/getting presents. Basically, I celebrate Capitalist Christmas. Got it, comrades?

"Get to the point, asshole."

Back to Christmas Vacation. Throughout his 97-minute adventure, Clark is hellbent on creating an epic Christmas for his family. The lengths he goes to in pursuit of yuletide perfection are Herculean, from magically hauling a 50′ pine tree from the middle of the woods (sans a saw) and stuffing it into the living room to actually inviting his in-laws to stay at his home for the entire holiday. Clark gets Christmas. In one scene, he risks life and limb to personally staple 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights to his roof and plunge the Chicago suburbs into a blackout. Did I mention that he does all this while wearing flannel and a down vest and looking like a complete maniac? This guy is basically my Ghost of Christmas Future.

You know you own that exact same outfit. And that exact same ball o' lights.

You might think that Clark’s actions are a bit extreme. And, of course, you’re supposed to, because that’s comedy and stuff. But while maybe it wasn’t a great idea to yank a back-up tree from the front yard without checking for squirrels first, everything he does is for his family – to give them what he didn’t have. In one scene, he explains that he wants to make things perfect for his kids because his childhood Christmases were always such a mess. As the product of a very dysfunctional Roman Catholic-Jewish family, I feel that. I’ve always wanted a big, happy, Rockwellian holiday and never really got it. So I daydream about how I’ll decorate the outside of my future house, which exists in some alternate-reality timeline where I will ever be able to afford a house. I imagine going sledding with my hypothetical children, who will be roughly 8-years-old at birth and fully potty-trained, able to dress/feed themselves, and capable of intelligent conversations about comic books. And I drag my girlfriend to places like Yankee Candle to look at blown glass German pickle ornaments and giant nutcrackers and $50 holiday table runners that we neither need nor can afford.

My GF makes this face whenever I talk about Christmas.

Now don’t get me wrong – Clark Griswold is not perfect. Yes, he upholds many ideals that I consider admirable – and, if I may, very butch – such as loyalty, hard work, dedication to loved ones, and maintaining a great collection of seasonably-appropriate ties. But he’s also hard-headed and has a tendency to launch into long, obscenity-filled rants in front of small children.


And let’s not forget the whole “lusting after lingerie counter clerks while you should be shopping for your wife who you are very much still married to” thing. Don’t do that thing, folks.

This is NOT an approved butch-son bonding activity.

Despite these flaws, Clark Griswold remains my butch holiday icon, as well as the fictional person I fully intend to blame someday when I inevitably break several limbs while attempting to strap a 8-foot-tall plastic Santa Claus to my roof. Hypothetically.

"Shitter was full!"


3 thoughts on “An Ode to Clark Griswold, My Butch Holiday Icon

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