At this festive and whimsical time of year, a time of sharing and gratitude, I feel compelled to share a little secret of mine.
A sometimes embarrassing though always endearing fun fact, known only to my childhood friends and neighbors.
I was raised by Clark Griswold.
No, not Chevy Chase, he was just the actor. My father, I am certain, was the inspiration behind “Christmas Vacation”—the movie’s jubilant and mildly mischievous muse, wrapped in a thousand blinking strands of Christmas lights and hung with moosey mugfuls of frothy spiked eggnog.
Now, looking back, I recall with immense gratitude and joy the quirky assortment of memories that have become Christmas to me. So grab your beverage of choice, put your slippered feet up, and dim your lights to an appropriately magical and Christmasy ambiance, as I take you down a bit of my memory lane…
Growing up, we had many a wild Christmas tree that just couldn’t quite squeeze itself between floor and ceiling, and although no squirrels ever launched themselves at us from among the sappy branches, I do recall a mass exodus of coniferous creepy-crawlies squirming and scrabbling up the living room walls.
Intense exterior decorating ensued promptly on the morning after Thanksgiving, and would continue well into the night. The house often appeared to have been hosed down with Christmas lighting by a rampant host of runaway, drunken elves. (In reality, if one were to search among the sparkling bushes or under the twinkling trees, one would find scattered bottles of Sam Adams Winter Brew as evidence.) This was all very fantastic; “less is more” did not apply.
However, with a “more is more” approach to holiday decor, my father was also known to take things ever so slightly overboard, just like his movie character. My mother did her best to support his antics, often quietly adding her own touch of class (usually elemental versus electric and plastic), to smooth out the random tackiness—though there were times she had to firmly march him back to Wal-Mart to return a life-size waving Santa Claus, or 10-foot inflatable snow globe, or some other accent piece for the front yard. (She did, however, let him keep the projector beaming all manner of holiday insignia upon our home: snowflakes, candy canes, little snowmen, all arcing across the front of the house in constant parade.)
I recall on one of our annual Christmas pilgrimages from Florida to Wisconsin, my father insisted my sister and I stand outside in a remote and snowy landscape, two shivering Sunshine State teenagers dressed in thin, ill-fitting jackets borrowed from cousins, until he snapped the perfect picture. I remember we finally had had enough of it, and with appropriate adolescent attitudes, turned up our chapped noses and marched back to the car. Which was locked. We turned around, and there he stood, in his own thin jacket. He, however, grew up in Wisconsin. He was not cold. “Take your time girls,” he said with a smile. “I’ve got all day.” Needless to say, my sister and I posed with wide, blue-lipped grins. We even ventured upon a frozen lake for a few snapshots, which we later learned from a horrified aunt, was not fully frozen.
He chauffeured countless Christmas cruises, piling all available family members into the car (even the grumpy ones), cranking the carols until the speakers shook, and no matter the weather, rolling the windows down to fully enjoy the neighborhood’s decorations.
And even now, he will wake with the sun to brew the most recent seasonal roast of coffee for a sleepy household, and at night he will build a fire, even though he lives in Central Florida and it’s 80 degrees outside—on a cool night.
For my own children, he dresses as “Tropical Santa,” donning what looks like red furry boxer shorts with white fuzzy trim and a short sleeved top of equally silly design. Weather won’t stop him from being a Griswold. He adapts.
He has instilled in me a love of all things Christmas, whether it be the latest flashing yard accoutrements or the newest soulful ballad offered up by a pulsing, deep South church choir over the radio waves. Because of him, I hold a deep affinity for plastic reindeer and a certain fondness for the old Christmas cartoon specials, knowing most of the songs and dialogue by heart. Christmas carols in my house, where I am now the momma, start well before Thanksgiving, and sometimes make a surprise appearance in July.
But there is much more to this man than just silly memories of seasonal brews and Santa suits.
My father has taught me the insurmountable value of celebrating for the sake of celebration—that gratitude, mirth, and plenty are states of mind. That we can choose to live abundantly in all moments, and see the twinkling lights instead of the cold, dreary weather.
Thank you, Dad, for your unorthodox approach to life. You almost never take offense, but nearly always find the humor in things—even if it’s offensive humor.
Thank you for showing me that laughter is always appropriate, even when it’s not.
Thank you for teaching me levity and goofiness are not only always options, but often medicines.
I raise my moosey mugful to toast. Cheers to you, Dad. Thank you for blessing me with your twinkling humor, your love of merriment, your goofy nonsense that shines on me like the North Star. It will forever be my beacon and my strength.
I love you. Merry Christmas.
Author: Andrea Hartman
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis