The story focuses on how Luther and Nora Krank try to avoid the frenzy traditionally experienced during the Christmas holiday. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the two bring their daughter Blair to the airport, where she departs for a year-long assignment in a remote area of Peru with the Peace Corps. Nora bemoans the fact the upcoming Christmas will be their first time they are separated as a family, prompting her husband to calculate how much they spent celebrating the holidays the prior year. When he realizes they have little to show for the $6,100 they invested in decorations, gifts, and entertaining, he decides to skip all the hubbub at home and surprise Nora by booking a ten-day Caribbean cruise aboard the Island Princess.
It doesn't take long for Nora to adjust to the idea of no Christmas shopping, no Christmas tree, and no Christmas Eve party they host every year. To the couple's amazement, their neighbors on Hemlock Street strongly object to their decision to boycott the holiday, because their decision not to decorate their home will jeopardize their winning the coveted prize for best decorated block in the neighborhood. The local Boy Scout troop is dismayed when the Kranks refuse to support them by purchasing a tree, the police are angered when they decline to buy a calendar, and the stationer is upset when he loses their annual order of engraved greeting cards. Luther and Nora find themselves the objects of derision and anxiously await their departure on Christmas Day.
Without warning, Blair calls on Christmas Eve to tell them she's at Miami International Airport, en route home with her Peruvian fiancé as a surprise for her parents. She's anxious to introduce Enrique to her family's holiday traditions, and when she asks if they're having their usual party that night, a panicked Nora says yes, much to Luther's dismay. Comic chaos ensues as the couple finds themselves trying to decorate the house and coordinate a party with mere hours to spare before their daughter and future son-in-law's arrival.