Vivian uses a common sense approach to explore the social issues of today.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation became an instant holiday classic when it was released on December 1, 1989, not just because it’s teeming with comedic one-line zingers we like to quote at opportune moments, but also because the characters are so relatable. The larger your family gatherings, the more likely you are to have one or more relatives who are real-life equivalents of the movie’s beloved characters. How many of your kith and kin match the following personality molds?
Like Cousin Eddie, there’s always one relative who has nothing tangible to show for his or her life’s work. Whether they drift from one low-paying job to another or make a career of taking advantage of people and government entitlements, you can always count on them to mooch as much as they can from you during the holidays. Sponges take advantage of your penchant for generosity during this season and may even guilt you into being more charitable towards them than you intend. They have spent a lifetime blaming other people and situations for their lack of success, yet they are kindhearted enough that you just can’t be mean or rude to them no matter how much they irk you. Driving out to the middle of nowhere and leaving them for dead isn’t an option, so just refill their eggnog and bite your lip until they drift off to their next dead-end.
Art, Doris, and Nora enter the Griswold home and immediately begin fixating on their health concerns—hemorrhoids, red spots, corns—while Art later crabs about needing to eat on a schedule so he can take his pills. Our hypochondriac relatives love having a fresh audience to yammer to about recent surgeries, medications, aches, pains, and the host of other ailments that grow common with age.
The Hard of Hearing and Forgetful
Dementia is a cruel disease affecting 5.7 million Americans. Despite how ravaging the disorder is, it’s nearly impossible for primary caregivers to curb their frustration and exasperation when wrangling with the same person day in and day out who is suffering from it. While Uncle Louis might seem impatient and uncompassionate towards Aunt Bethany, you can empathize with his position if you regularly look after a relative in the same predicament. It’s like talking to a preschooler. You grow weary of repeating yourself and explaining simple things in a way they can grasp. They recall events that happened decades past, like how Grace died 30 years ago, but they can’t remember what you told them in the past 10 seconds.
Just as Aunt Bethany couldn’t hear a garbage truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant, we too have the hearing-impaired relatives who refuse to wear hearing aids. Did you know that only twenty percent of individuals who need hearing aids use them? It is maddening! Whether they don’t want to admit they are ageing, are worried about the cosmetic appearance, or refuse a new challenge, our throats grow raw from shouting. Their stubbornness will only lead to isolation though if we don’t persist in the labor of hollering our conversations.
Maybe none of your relatives park a dilapidated RV in your suburban driveway or wear a dickey under a see-through white shirt, but most of us have at least one relative who lacks class. You could give them a million dollars, and they would still look like a homeless person. Their lack of basic conversational grammar sounds like nails on a chalkboard, and they may even have a southern twang even though they were born and raised in a northern state. They use redneck slang, like a cat crapping on a hot tin roof or good night’s shirt!
They are proud of their sub-par career choices, just as Eddie boasts of his son’s job travelling with the carnival. After all, who wouldn’t want to operate a tilt-o-whirl or bark for the yak woman? Still, once they pick a vocation, they work hard at it to cover their bills, pay for satellite, and buy their beer. Try not to judge.
The Whining Kids
Making sacrifices doesn’t come easy to kids. Whether it’s giving up their room for relatives like Audrey does or finding far-fetched excuses like Russ to avoid checking light bulbs, children resist when the world ceases to revolve around them.
If there are a lot of kids in your extended family, no doubt one of them has secretly been labeled The Brat. Maybe your sister-in-law is too lenient and doesn’t enforce boundaries, enabling your niece or nephew to unabashedly wreck your house worse than Snots does chasing a squirrel and nosing through the trash.
Art is the embodiment of the cranky and critical relative with whom every family must contend. Some people can’t muster a positive word if their lives depend on it. Art never misses an opportunity to degrade his son-in-law. Even when the Griswold home finally shines in full holiday splendor, Art’s response is a terse, The little lights are not twinkling.
If you can’t avoid spending time with your cantankerous relatives, you can learn to let their cracks roll off without validating them with a response.
The Worker Bee
A house full of people means someone has to be constantly cooking and cleaning up after everyone. While Clark tries to avoid the family by staying outside, Ellen is left with doing all the work inside the house, including the biggest job—keeping the peace! She gets a hand from Catherine with the turkey, the cat food infused Jello mold from Aunt Bethany, and a little help with vegetable chopping from Audrey, but the bulk of the care-giving falls heavily on Ellen’s shoulders.
Are you the one in your family who works your fingers to the bone, missing out on a lot of the fun? If so, start delegating! Family members are usually happy to help, but they just need a little direction.
If you are the one relaxing on your laurels, get off your duff and lend a hand.
Uncle Louis shows no remorse when he burns the Griswold Christmas tree to cinders.
Cousin Eddie is oblivious to the inconvenience of having his dog in the house.
Frances smokes inside, while Clark Senior says if help is needed with the lights, he’ll be upstairs asleep.
No one is more thoughtless than Mr. Shirley—not only for suspending Christmas bonuses, but for making no effort to remember the names of his valuable employees.
If you’re a thoughtful person who puts the needs of others before your own, it’s hard to cope with people who are self-centered. You suffer perpetual disappointment because you expect them to treat you with the same consideration you extend to them, but they don’t reciprocate, and they never will. For such people, you must lower your expectations to avoid offense.
The Old Fart
Clark is infatuated with panty counter clerk, Mary, and even lies about being divorced. Several Freudian Slips later, he daydreams about her in his future backyard pool before being startled from his reverie by Ruby Sue.
We will give Clark a pass since he is a true family man who is devoted to his wife, minus this one-time slip. However, many large families have at least one old fart who likes to touch and kiss his way around the ladies, masking his adulterous antics behind a façade of Christmas cheer. Everyone tries to avoid his kisses on the mouth, just like Ellen ducks from Eddie’s, but if he could, he would brazenly show his yule log to anyone willing to look.
The Obnoxious Neighbors
Even though Todd and Margo can’t be classified as family, we would be remiss to exclude annoying neighbors from our list of holiday doppelgangers.
The Chesters are vexed by contending with Christmas lights beaming into their home that are brighter than an airport’s, but many of us could gripe about other equally loathsome practices in our neighborhoods. How about the residents who keep their decorations up through February? What about the tacky, improperly anchored inflatables unsystematically jumbled in the yard that spend the season lying flat? Yes, it makes you crazy, but it it’s only temporary.
'Tis the Season to be Merry
No family is perfect, and we must learn to rise above the host of irritations we encounter so we don’t miss out on the beauty and majesty of this most wonderful time of the year.
You can adopt Ellen’s position--I don’t know what to say except it’s Christmas, and we’re all in misery—or Clark’s—Christmas is about resolving differences and seeing through the petty problems of family life. You decide.
© 2018 Vivian Coblentz