Around the holidays, one of my favorite traditions is to watch as many Christmas movies as time allows. From classics like “A Christmas Story” to modern hits like “Elf,” nothing beats cozying up on the couch with a warm mug of hot cocoa to enjoy a feel-good story. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is a comedy classic about the Griswolds and their quest for a “fun old-fashioned family Christmas.” Written by John Hughes, the film follows the hilarious—albeit dangerous—antics of bumbling father Clark Griswold, whose dedication to having a good family holiday blurs common sense. Here are lessons on safety and efficiency we can glean from Clark’s mistakes.
Clark’s mission to dazzle—and antagonize—the neighborhood with an incredible display of “25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights” is admirable, but rife with dangers.
When putting up lights that have been in storage, make sure cords aren’t frayed or damaged. Strings of lights bundled up in storage year after year may need to be retired. If they do need replacing, opt for energy-efficient options such as LED bulbs.
If you’re using a ladder to put up lights, keep safety in mind. Make sure a friend or family member spots you. Never decorate alone when using a ladder. Never replicate Clark’s blunder of “hopping” while still on a ladder to relocate positions. After you finish stringing up a section of lights, climb down the ladder and safely move it to the next location.
Never use a stapler, nails or screws to hang electrical wires. Use insulated hooks and clips to prevent injury and keep your home safe.
One of the film’s most recognizable scenes is when Clark’s wife, Ellen, searches through a treacherous mound of extenders and cords to find and fix a loose plug.
Avoid Clark’s mistake. Use only the available number of plugs on an outlet, extension cord or power strip. Never plug extenders into other extenders or power strips because it can overload them. Overloaded strips generate heat and pose a huge fire hazard.
Outdoor lights can run hotter than indoor lights, so make sure to use the proper string of lights for each location. Plug cords into a ground-fault circuit interrupter so power is quickly shut off in the event of a problem, preventing an electrical shock.
Don’t be like Clark and let your awesome Christmas light display annoy your neighbors all night. Use timers on lights to save money and prevent energy waste while you dream of sugar plums.
Clark’s heart is in the right place. A well-decorated Christmas tree lends the ideal backdrop for holiday memories.
In the beginning of the film, the Griswolds head to a tree farm for the perfect centerpiece for their family Christmas. Live trees require a lot of water to prevent them from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. As we discover later in the film, dried-out live trees ignite easily. Keep all flames and heat sources far from indoor trees and decorations.
The flash-fire in the Griswolds’ living room might have been a funny gag for film, but there’s real risk off camera. Fires that start with Christmas trees can lead to death, serious injury and property damage.
A general rule for decorating with strings of lights is to limit the strands to three per outlet. Connecting more than three strings can lead to blown fuses and a fire hazard.
Don’t let your furry friend end up like the Griswolds’ poor cat, Fluffy, who unfortunately combusted under a couch after chewing on wires. Low-hanging strands are dangerously within nibbling distance, and pets can also get tangled in lights. Keep strands of lights away from the bottom branches of your tree and out of reach of pets.
Near the start of the movie, Cousin Eddie drains his RV waste right into the storm sewage. His mistake ultimately comes to a head after a cigar is lit outside during a bizarre and hysterical finale, but dangerous gases are a serious real-life hazard.
In addition to smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors can protect you and your family. Replace batteries in all detectors twice a year and test them regularly.
During the movie, Clark often finds respite from the holiday madness in the attic. Even though he is wearing pajamas, Clark finds the attic cold when stashing away Christmas gifts. Sealing air leaks and installing proper insulation can prevent heat loss through the attic. Keep your home warm and save money on your winter electric bills.
“And Now I Know What it Means to Me.”
After the series of hilarious, but dangerous events faced by the Griswolds, Clark comes to the heartwarming conclusion Christmas isn’t about “bonuses or gifts or turkeys or trees.” Spending time with family and loved ones—even if they inadvertently spark an explosion that causes a Santa decoration on the front lawn to blast into space while Aunt Bethany sings “The Star-Spangled-Banner” from the porch—is what matters most during the holidays.
Hopefully, lessons learned from this classic holiday film keep your family and home safe for Christmas movie-viewing.