One of my favorite holiday movies growing up was National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I am still drawn to the film around this time of year and I decided to reflect on why that may be. The most obvious reason, of course, is a fondness for classic slapstick comedy. Also, a possible nostalgia for the comforting rituals of my upbringing. But if I look below the surface, and analyze the plot and context, I think there is an important lesson about perfectionism and rigid expectations surrounding the holidays.

I find that the holidays can be pleasurable for some, painful for others, and often a blending of the two for many of us. The holidays can conjure up old family wounds, remind us of the people we have lost, or exacerbate feelings of loneliness when we don’t have someone special to share it with. Conversely, we may feel excited about the season but idealize how everything and everyone must be in order to truly enjoy the experience.

In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark W. Griswold (the main character) envisions the “perfect family Christmas” – the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect meal, the perfect lights, the perfect gifts. Needless to say, everything goes terribly wrong and the holiday (and the family home) is a complete disaster. The movie wraps up nicely in the end and there seems to be a sense of freedom in letting go and embracing the way things are as opposed to how they were previously envisioned to be.

By bringing mindfulness to our holiday plans, interactions, and experiences, we can let go of the “perfect holiday” and embrace the holiday that comes to be. This may mean that uncomfortable or negative feelings are experienced in addition to the pleasurable ones. Or that we have to say “no” to something or someone in order to take care of ourselves. The hope is that we can loosen the rigidity around our plans and expectations. To experience acceptance for where we are in the moment means practicing gratitude for what we have and honoring the pain for that which is missing. Also, let’s not forget to incorporate some lightness and laughter this holiday season.