Most of us have holiday traditions that—good or bad—we take part in each year. My recent trip home reminded me that in my house, an important custom is the telling and retelling of family stories. The favorites—the ones that never seem to die—are those in which one of us has fucked up but good. We love reliving the times we made an awful mess of things.

In high school I had a friend that was a few years older than me who had come home from college over winter break. So I stopped by his mom’s house to say “hi” and catch up—it was the first time I met his family. They were decorating the house and putting ornaments on the tree—an important ritual that they had saved until my friend came home from school.

At some point, his mom very excitedly pulled out a box and proudly showed the rest of the family the brand new angel she bought for the top of the tree. It was this big, puffy white mass of satin and lace and gold garland trim and it was like her Christmas present to herself, she was so stoked about it.

The stoke levels registered much lower with her sons.

My friend, who had mastered the dramatic monologue, told his mom in no uncertain terms that the angel had no business on their Christmas tree. He held up this 1970s-era fiberglass star—flecked with rash-like patches of glitter remnants and specks of paint that could only serve as a sad reminder that it once had color. He then launched into an impassioned speech about how that star/abomination had been on their tree every Christmas for as long as he could remember.  He said, “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without this star on the tree.”

His mom and that puffy angel never stood a chance. She tried to make a case at first, but you could see in her face that she knew she was fighting a losing battle. This sad, rusty old star symbolized the very meaning of Christmas and the angel would never even leave the box.


Triumphant, my friend tried to place the star on the top of the tree, which was just out of his reach. After watching him make a few attempts, I (FOR SOME FUCKING RIDICULOUS REASON THAT DECADES LATER I HAVE YET TO UNCOVER) offered to help.

I mean, sure — he was a foot taller than me and, oh yeah, I had ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS GETTING INVOLVED! But at the time it seemed perfectly natural to step in and take possession of what he had just very elegantly demonstrated to be an irreplaceable family heirloom.

I don’t think I held that star in my hands for more than four seconds. To say that I “broke” it would be a gross understatement—like saying Nicolas Cage “breaks” movies. I crushed it. I reduced it into a glittery pile of sentimental dust and assassinated the ENTIRE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS while my friend and his family watched in horror.

That star was Kennedy and my hand was a magic bullet and we all stood silently in the Dealey Plaza that was their living room for what seemed like an eternity. I held out the handful of shiny garbage pieces while my face turned red, wishing I could just disappear, or die, or install a flux capacitor in my Chevy Nova and relive the last minute of my life like it was Opposite Day.

There just wasn’t a “whoops” big enough to express my regret.

My friend very politely pretended that it was no big deal and that he hadn’t literally spoken the words, “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without this star on the tree” only moments before. I left his house faster than Nicolas Cage makes terrible decisions.

Every Christmas as I’m trimming my own tree, I think about that night and wonder if the Franco family’s Christmas traditions, which I assume feature a satiny, lacey, gold-garland-trimmed angel tree topper, include the telling and retelling of the story of the year Christmas was ruined when some interfering ditz came over and made an awful mess of things.

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Founder and editor of online magazine Kittenpants, producer for stage and screen, former writer for the Comedy Central Insider, quoted in both Maxim and Jane: DARCI RATLIFF can do it all, and does do it all (on or before the third date). Buy her book, If I Did It at

18 responses to “The Case of the Christmas Crush”

  1. First to comment, first to comment! Oh that’s funny! And awful. Yes. But funny! I mean awful. (funny)

  2. MGT says:

    You should invite yourself to their home next year, and see if you can help put the angel on the tree just to see what happens.

  3. Gloria says:

    Every time I see that you’ve posted, I get a little surge of Happy.

    This is hilarious.

    I absolutely delight in your shame and embarrassment, for you tell it so well!

  4. erica says:

    I liked this comment on FB, so I’m going to post it here: Actually, as I recall, they replaced it with an empty liter of vodka, one for each day of Advent.”

    Also, was it James Franco? Because he probably would thank you for that pain as he uses it to inform his latest short story or role or fashion line or souffle.

  5. Dee Pounds says:

    I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who would love to have you come help THEIR families decorate for Christmas, Darci. Absolutely hilarious, and I will never again put a tree-topper (whether it be star, angel, or vodka bottle) on my tree without thinking of you.

  6. Kittenpants says:

    Thanks, everyone.

    I am still mortified by this incident and when time travel is real, this is tops on my list of do-overs.

    And James Franco WISHES it was him. It was not.

  7. Ashley Menchaca says:

    “There just wasn’t a “whoops” big enough to express my regret.”

    Perfect! This was great from start to finish.

  8. Oh my.

    But I bet his mom was secretly very happy with you. She got her angel, and didn’t have to be the bad guy. See? Bright side. Well, for her, anyway. (:

  9. Simon Smithson says:

    But, on the other hand, I’ve been made incredibly happy by the recounting of this story.

    It’s like a Christmas miracle with a timed fuse!

  10. Brad Listi says:

    Back, and to the left.

    Back, and to the left.

    Back, and to the left.

  11. Erika Rae says:

    Another fantastic Darci Ratliff post. You obliterated their holiday tradition like an atomic bomb. And not just the tradition, but the symbol itself. Entire armies have tried to do that to people without as much success. Salute!

  12. Judy Prince says:

    Funny stuff, Darci!

    You’d do brilliantly well as a Santa for kids at Macy’s or Harrod’s (if they do such things). Think of the disillusion, the broken little bones and screams of pain, the candid photographs……

    Loved this: “To say that I “broke” it would be a gross understatement—like saying Nicolas Cage “breaks” movies.”

    Must confess, though, he nailed it in *Moonstruck.*

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