Surviving Christmas: Lessons from Clark W. Griswold Jr.

Hosting Christmas is often a cinnamon-baked decathlon of stress and anxiety.

There’s a million things to do.

After work you grind through traffic to Target. You park miles away. You hustle across a frozen parking lot. You stop to catch your breath at the closest shopping cart corral. You promise to stop eating so many cookies.

You funnel through the electric doors with the rest of the huffers and puffers.

You elbow your way through the aisles   fighting, searching for a set of holiday hot plates which of course–they don’t have.

When you get home you microwave some chicken and spend the night cramming Christmas cards into envelopes that were apparently meant for smaller Christmas cards.

Your weekends are spent bustling about the house hanging new picture frames, vacuuming between couch cushions, cleaning out closets and replacing those burned out hallway light bulbs you meant to change in November.

You think about alcohol but you have eaten breakfast yet.

You’re short-tempered.

You bark at your dog, your kids, your spouse.

You complain about the weather, the traffic, the cost of cheese and that your cousin from Tulsa hasn’t responded to your Christmas dinner Evite.

And as you stand at your kitchen sink in your bathrobe, eating another Christmas tree-shaped sugar cookie you can’t remember the last time you didn’t have a headache.

But alas my merry-less friend, there is hope this holiday season.

In this dizzying stretch of Pollyannas, secret Santas and ugly sweaters Hollywood (of all recent places) has provided us a savoir. A savoir who hails from the sprawling suburbs of Chicago. A savoir who, in 1989, was rumored to be a finalist for the Food Additive Designer of the Year.

Clark W. Griswold Jr., the lovable patriarch in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is determined to provide his family a “fun old-fashioned family Christmas.”

But as holidays often go — whatever can go wrong, does go wrong for Clark — pushing him to the brink of insanity and striking a chord with anyone who has ever hosted the holidays.

However at the end of the movie, after a SWAT team destroys his house, the big-hearted Clark stands shining like the 25,000 white Christmas lights that adorn his house. Clark is a 10,000 watt beacon of hope who may have inadvertently taught us how to enjoy the stressful holiday season.

Temper your expectations

Like Clark, we all want the perfect Christmas. So we inflate our dreams. We convince ourselves that if we can buy the right gifts, get the right tree, bake the perfect fruit cake Christmas will be perfect this year. But even in Hollywood the perfect Christmas doesn’t exist. So when we set our expectations dangerously high, we only increase our stress and anxiety and prohibit our ability to enjoy Christmas.

Limit yourself

Clark’s desire to have the “best looking house on the block” represents someone trying to do too much. During the holidays we over-schedule, over-extend ourselves which consequently drains our spirit. We have to remember that it’s okay to say “no” and do less —  so we have more energy to do the things that really matter.

Don’t overspend

Clark puts a down payment on a swimming pool and plans to use his Christmas bonus to pay off the rest of the pool. However, instead of a financial bonus his boss, Frank Shirley, enrolls Clark in the Jelly of the Month Club and jeopardizes Clark’s ability to payoff the pool. Lesson — stick to a reasonable budget this Christmas and invest in relationships and glad tidings instead of material possessions.

 Remember that this is a special time

At one point Clark is home alone and stuck in the attic. To pass the time he finds a projector and plays reels of home movies from Christmases of his youth. As adults it’s so easy to forget how much happiness the holidays once brought us and how quickly our children grow up. It’s so easy to get caught in the holiday mayhem that we forget how important the magic of Christmas is to our children.


In the opening scene Clark leads his family through the woods that is packed with knee-high snow to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. However, once they find the tree Clark realizes he forgot a saw. In the next scene the family is driving in their station wagon with their new Christmas tree strapped to the roof — roots and all. There’s a good chance you’re going to forget something, overlook something this holiday season. Roll with it. Don’t let not having a saw stop you from enjoying the holidays.

Accept your family

Cousin Eddie: “You surprised to see us Clark?”

Clark: “Oh Eddie…if I woke up tomorrow morning with my head sewn to the carpet I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.”

It’s natural to look across the dinner table and wonder how you could ever share genes with these people. But the holidays are bigger and more important than you and your grips and quarrels. You can’t choose your family but you can choose your attitudes and reactions. You can choose to accept, embrace and if the situation calls for it forgive.

No matter where you’re celebrating Christmas I wish you a joyous and stress-free Christmas.

And hopefully you can steal some time to stretch out on the couch, finish off the last of that cookie platter and enjoy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Be well,


 PS–Checkout my cousin Dan’s homage to Clark and Cousin Eddie!

A Message of Hope For All Those Stressed-out Teachers

The other day I felt that familiar hot streak of panic rush through my chest as I stared down a mound of ungraded assignments, as a slew of unanswered emails festered in my inbox, as the guidance department requested a meeting for that “special” student.

To all those stressed-out teachers… I feel you.

Make no mistake, we’re in the armpit of the school year.

Winter break is over. Spring break is light years away. It’s a stretch of time where the teaching blood runs cold, where like sunlight, hope and motivation work in slivers, and where June seems like an impossible dream.


But I reassure you friends…there is hope. There is good news.

The calendar will continue to turn over. Spring break will come. Summer will happen.

But in order to get to our flip-flopian paradise we must roll up our sleeves, roll back our shoulders, and stare down some hard truths…

You will lose your lunch and prep periods.

Administration will make decisions you don’t agree with.

You will spend hours completing nonsensical, state-mandated paperwork.

Your students will celebrate when you’re absent.

You will consider a career change.

Your coffee will turn cold.

You will disagree with your observation.

You will want alcohol before lunch.

You will hear the upcoming grade is worse then the current grade.

You will get sick.

You will be overwhelmed by acronyms (PLC, SLO, SGO, PAARC, CST, CCCS, IEP, NCLB)

A colleague will stress bake, deliver a plate of confections to the faculty lounge and you will stuff your face. Then you will feel guilty. Then you will ponder a diet. Then you will realize you don’t have time to diet.

Your students will fail the test you spent weeks preparing them for.

You will compare yourself to your colleagues and convince yourself you’re the worst teacher in the world.

Your printer will run out of ink.

The school copy machine will jam at the most inopportune time.

You will spend hours writing and editing an 8 sentence email to a parent. And after you send it you will find a grammatical error.

You will endure uninspiring professional development.

Just when you get your class settled and focused there will be an unannounced fire drill.

You will call a student by the wrong name.

You will submit your lesson plans late.

You will be more excited about your lesson then your students will be.

On Friday, you will convince yourself that you will spend the entire weekend grading. On Saturday, you will convince yourself you will grade on all day Sunday. On Sunday, instead of grading, you will drink wine and binge watch Lifetime movies.

You will lose your favorite pen.

Students will dispute grades.

Parents will dispute grades.

You will feel like crying when you learn there’s 20 full school days in March.

You will lose sleep over things that won’t matter in a week.

After 13 years of teaching, here’s what I’ve learned– acknowledging these inconvenient truths is the first step in overcoming them.

Worrying about them will instigate ulcers.

Avoiding them will incite paranoia.

Remember, you are a teacher. You are a problem solver. The only thing we can do about our inconvenient truths is address them, solve them, and  resolve them.

And if you can do that my friend, you will emerge from the murk. You will find yourself, many days from now, lounging on a sandy beach, sipping that alcohol you desperately craved on that cold January morning, bathing in the dreamy June sun.

Be well,


PS… If you know a stressed-out teacher who would enjoy this post,  by all means, be awesome and share it with them!