Almost 31 years ago, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation hit theaters and became an instant Christmas classic. The third movie in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, this one finds the Griswold family – Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki) – hosting the Christmas from hell as their entire extended family including four grandparents, one great-aunt, one great-uncle, Ellen’s crazy cousin, Eddie, his wife and their two kids, one slobbery dog, and one unlucky cat descends upon them for the holidays.
Written and produced by the legendary John Hughes and directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, Christmas Vacation has withstood the test of time to become one of the most beloved holiday movies ever made thanks to the sharp dialogue and comedic abilities of the entire cast. To get into the holiday spirit while celebrating the movie’s anniversary, here are a few fun facts and bits of trivia we bet you didn’t know.
1. Chevy Chase broke his finger while filming Clark’s first freaking out scene.
The scene where Clark has a meltdown after not being able to get the Christmas lights working was a painful one for Chevy Chase. In that scene, Clark flips out and starts attacking the Christmas decorations in the yard. While filming, Chase really broke his pinky finger while punching Santa Claus, but kept going. That was the take they used, which is why you see Clark switch to kicking the decorations halfway through.
2. There’s a dialogue callback to National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Toward the end of the film as chaos reins, Rusty exclaims, “I told you we should have gone to Hawaii!” It’s a callback to National Lampoon’s Vacation from six years earlier. In that movie, when asked where in the world he’d most like to go, Rusty says Hawaii.
3. And a visual callback, too.
During the scene where Clark and Eddie are drinking eggnog and talking in the living room, they’re drinking out of Walley World mugs. Walley World, of course, was the vacation destination of the Griswolds in the previous movie.
4. There’s even a cheeky callback involving Cousin Eddie.
In the scene where Clark and Ellen privately discuss their worries that Eddie and Catherine don’t have the money to get their kids presents, Ellen mentions that Eddie said he’d been out of work for close to seven years. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to another line of Eddie’s in National Lampoon’s Vacation when he mentions he’d been laid off from the asbestos plant. Vacation was released almost seven years before Christmas Vacation.
5. The fake People magazine Clark reads in bed has a specific person on the cover.
In the scene where Clark is trying to read a People magazine in bed and the pages keep getting stuck to the tree sap on his hands, the person on the cover is director Jeremiah S. Chechik.
6. Mother Nature conspired against them.
During the scene in which Aunt Bethany and Uncle Louis arrive at the Griswold house, a minor earthquake shook the set – even though it’s set in a suburb of Chicago, much of the movie, including the Griswold’s house, was shot on the backlot of the Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank, CA.
7. Clark has worn one specific piece of clothing in all three Vacation movies.
The dark blue Chicago Bears baseball cap Clark wears in some scenes in the movie is the same cap he wore in the first two movies.
8. Chris Columbus passed on directing the movie – only to land another Christmas classic.
Chris Columbus was originally supposed to direct Christmas Vacation. In fact, he even filmed some second unit establishing shots that he claims are still in the film. However, after two meetings with the notoriously difficult Chevy Chase, Columbus left the project, telling writer-producer John Hughes there was no way he could work with Chase. At the time, Columbus desperately needed work and was worried it would mean the end of his career. Instead, Hughes offered him the chance to direct a movie that became another timeless Christmas classic – Home Alone.
9. A clever trick was used to film Clark’s epic meltdown rant about his boss. Mr. Shirley.
It’s a common belief that Chase’s ranting meltdown about his cheapskate boss, Mr. Shirley, was all ad-libbed. And it was – mostly. But what the audience can’t see, as the camera is facing Clark while the rest of the cast has their backs to the camera, is that everyone in the cast in that scene had a single word hanging around their necks, each one a different derogatory adjective that Clark uses to describe his boss.
10. He uses 23 different phrases to describe Mr. Shirley.
They are: 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.
11. The famous crotch grab was totally improvised.
One of the funniest visual gags in the movie is when the SWAT team breaks into the Griswolds’ house and in their panic, the entire family freezes exactly where they are when the cops yell, “Freeze!” When they do, the camera clearly shows Ellen’s hand over Clark’s crotch. This was completely improvised by Beverly D’Angelo and she purposely only did it on one take on the off-chance it could end up in the film’s final cut – which is exactly what happened.
12. Clark’s over-the-top Christmas decorating has even earned a place in common vernacular.
In America and in Australia, the term “Griswold House” is now used to describe a house that is extravagantly and gaudily decorated for Christmas.
13. Saturday Night Live alumni have a foothold in the movie.
The film was released in the heyday of SNL and four different former cast members appear in the movie:
- Chevy Chase
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus
- Randy Quaid
- Brian Doyle-Murray
14. The cast also has a ton of impressive awards between them.
The cast of Christmas Vacation is stacked with comedic talent and they have a number of prestigious awards between them by now:
- 4 Oscar nominations – Juliette Lewis, Diane Ladd, Randy Quaid
- 4 Golden Globe nominations – Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Johnny Galecki
- 1 Golden Globe win – Julia Louis-Dreyfus
- 14 Emmy wins – Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Doris Roberts
15. The newel post gag is a deranged nod to It’s A Wonderful Life.
After Clark snaps and cuts down a replacement Christmas tree with a chainsaw, he continues on his rampage and saws off the top of the newel post on the stairs before exclaiming with manic cheer, “Fixed the newel post!” It’s a reference to 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In that movie, protagonist George Bailey is constantly irritated by a loose newel post at the bottom of the stairs.
16. He also mimics two famous horror movie serial killers during this extended sequence.
When he comes out of the garage with the chainsaw, Clark is wearing a hockey mask, a nod to Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th and brandishes the chainsaw over his head, a nod to Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
17. It’s one of the few Christmas movies that doesn’t actually involve Christmas.
At least, not Christmas Day. Despite being all about the extended Christmas holidays, the movie actually ends on Christmas Eve – Christmas Day is never shown.
18. What ended up being audiences’ favorite scene almost didn’t make it into the movie.
The scene where Aunt Bethany’s cat chews on the Christmas lights on the tree and ends up electrocuting itself was almost cut from the movie. Studio execs wanted the scene taken out before the first test screening as they were worried it would offend some viewers. But producer Matty Simmons begged them to leave it in and he was right: The test audience rated that scene as their favorite in the entire movie. It stayed in.
19. Only Vacation movie where the Griswolds don’t actually travel.
Other than the opening scene where they drive out into the wilderness to get a Christmas tree, the entirety of the movie is set in Chicago and in their neighborhood.
20. There are a few continuity errors with the lights.
While Clark is decorating the house, his dad points out that if one light goes out, all the lights will go out. And that’s true with today’s modern serial circuit lights, but Clark is using the old-fashioned kind of lights on a parallel circuit. So if one light went out, it wouldn’t affect the rest of the lights. Also, since they’re the old-fashioned 7-watt style of bulbs and Clark says he has 25,000, they would draw 175,000 watts of power, or 175 kW, far more than a single household could sustain.