Lessons learned from the McAllisters and Griswolds

Among popular holiday films that Americans enjoy watching this time of year are two iconic stories of families dealing with the chaos of the season: Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. These two films entertain viewers with exaggerated scenes of chaotic family travel with major oversights and attempts at hosting extended family under one roof without conflict. Over the years, these films continue to play on major television networks and are available on streaming services with just the click of a button. Why? They provide much needed comedic relief this time of year and many families relate to the McAllisters or Griswolds in some way or another. Although Hollywood portrays these stories in a way that garners lots of laughs, are they ideal situations for most families? Probably not. 

The holiday season is hectic for many families, and it can be especially so for military families whose plans may involve travel to visit extended family or receiving relatives in their own homes this time of year. There are ways to combat the stress and approach the season without sacrificing your sanity or peace. Here are a few tips so you don’t end up feeling like Kate McAllister as you are trying to get out the door or like Clark Griswold trying to put on the perfect celebration!

Remember what and why you are celebrating

Holidays have different meanings in different families. Take the time to write down what it is that you are celebrating this year and why you are taking time to celebrate. If you aren’t sure where to start, gather your spouse and other loved ones for a meaningful conversation to determine the purpose of this holiday season. Consider starting a gratitude journal, too, to help you hone in on what it is that you want to focus your time, mind, and heart.

Start your days or weeks by reminding yourself of your “what” and “why” before you jump in to the hustle and bustle of work, school, vacation, or social gatherings. If you find yourself stressed, struggling with a decision, or frustrated in a situation, stop and refocus on the meaning of and your focus for the season before taking further action.

Make and stick with an organized plan

It’s too easy to make a plan these days and toss it aside when one thing comes up that you weren’t tracking. Just one unexpected interruption can cause the train to derail for days or weeks. Getting back on track can be a challenge. Start your holiday season off by pulling out a calendar. Your phone or email calendar work, or you can purchase a spiral bound calendar if you prefer pen and paper. Put down events like travel dates, visitor arrivals, school dates, parties, and other holiday activities you want to attend. 

Remember the “what” and “how” you’re celebrating this year and determine if the events on your calendar reflect your focus for the season. If anything doesn’t, you might want to reconsider the obligation. Be sure to include the ideas and desires of your extended family when making your plan if you are going to be spending time together. Set boundaries to ensure you aren’t on the go all season and that you get to do things (including rest!) that meet your families’ needs, too.

Be sure to keep a folder, either a paper pocket folder or an email folder (or both), with all your tickets, reservations, confirmations, etc. for easy access. Last minute scrambling wastes time and causes stress. It’s highly unlikely you’ll leave a kid behind like the McAllisters, but it is possible you could place important documents in the wrong place like a ticket on the kitchen counter awaiting a drink spill. Avoid accidents with well-organized files.

Have realistic expectations

holidays with family

There are many scenes in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswold loses control of his emotions because he has unrealistic expectations to wow his family for the holiday. A Christmas tree that doesn’t fit in his home, an extravagant lighting display that won’t work, and a work bonus that turns out to be thousands less than what he anticipated are just a few of the flops he faces. Combined with the drama of invited and uninvited family guests, the main character is pushed over the edge. 

This, too, can happen to you if your expectations for the season are not reasonable. Remember you can’t please everyone. Give yourself and others grace during the holidays. Making memories is important, so be intentional and be flexible. 

Don’t worry

Worry is best described as a domino effect in Home Alone. The McAllisters wake up late on the day of their trip and in a chaotic scramble to get to the airport, they leave one of their youngest family members, little Kevin, behind. Once they realize the child is missing, panic ensues. Worried about the child, the family cannot enjoy their trip and spends their time worrying if Kevin is safe and okay. While dramatic, this stories’ domino effect is something that you can experience in real life, too!

The holidays present plenty of opportunities to worry: concerns about travel, purchasing gifts, preparing meals, hosting guests, and more. Plan the best that you can to avoid any major blunders. If something comes up, remain calm and solicit the help of your spouse and other loved ones to get through the situation calmly. Don’t panic or let worry steal your peace this season.

Final thoughts

The holiday season can be stressful for anyone. Ground yourself in your reason for the season and share that with your loved ones during the holidays. It may be through actions or conversations. You can work together to navigate the holidays without sacrificing your sanity or peace!

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