I can’t say I have never been a religious person, but I can say that I figured most of that stuff out by the age of eight. My parents didn’t attend church, but would take my brother and I if we wanted to go, to any church we wanted to attend. Now that I think about it, I guess they left all the big decisions to us–they didn’t discuss who they voted for, they let us choose our own middle names (we both declined), and they left the fate of our immortal souls in our adorable child-sized hands.

My atheism is rarely discussed–barely even noticed–until someone dies. Then in the middle of all the sadness, certain friends or relatives want to know how I can live with the idea that my uncle isn’t playing fetch with my dog, Patches, on a cloud somewhere for all of eternity. We are hardly theological scholars (in fact, that statement remains true if you replace the word “theological” with any other word besides “Dr. Pepper”), so it can be difficult to explain my beliefs without making them think I’m shitting on theirs.

Something interesting happened after my Dad passed away in 2005. My family started a new holiday tradition in which we each buy a gift for ourselves and we call it our Christmas present from Dad.

The first year my dad gave me some art from Michael Paulus and Sam Brown that I had been wanting forever but kept putting off buying. The next year I got an iPhone. Each year I try to find something unnecessary–something that I can live without but really want, the idea being that it should be a true gift, and not fulfilling a need I would have to take care of anyway.

This year Dad cleaned out my Amazon wishlist (he’s really spoiling me, now). The items will remain wrapped until Christmas morning, when I will find a pretty box with a card that says “Merry Xmas from Dad” containing the 30 Rock soundtrack, the new Amy Sedaris book and a selection of movies that includes Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains, Over the Edge and Night of the Comet.

I can’t wait to see the look on my face!

Ironically, my father would never have actually picked any of those things. Like, there’s no way he would have spotted a copy of Night of the Comet and thought, “Oooh–Darci will want that.” (Whereas, I am reasonably sure that literally every other person who knows me, who stumbles upon a copy of Night of the Comet thinks, “Oooh–Darci will want that,” unless they assume I already have it).

But it doesn’t matter what he would or wouldn’t have done. Death has made my Dad a much better gift-giver. And this new tradition has made the holidays without him a little easier to bear.

I want to reassure those certain friends and relatives that I am just fine without the belief in Heaven or any kind of afterlife. I’m fine because I remain connected to my father in the ways that really matter to me.

He will find me whenever cheerleaders from the Valley take on scientist zombies in the wake of a cosmic apocalypse.

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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 kittenpants.com.

36 responses to “The Ghost of Christmas Dad”

  1. Dan Burt says:

    That’s the best idea ever! I think I’ll start the same tradition this Christmas even though both my parents are still alive. I’ll just say it’s a gift from Tom Bosley.

  2. Alli H. says:

    Ok. Hi I’m Darci and You’re Going to Rehab is still my favorite since you stole my life story and didn’t pay me for it, but I will probably read this again a few times. (if my dad is still alive can I buy myself a new semi automatic weapon that is almost $1000?)…..xo, a. p.s. I reaaaallllly want it!

  3. Summer Block says:

    Just saying, this is absolutely great – nice work!

  4. Simon Smithson says:

    I’ve always found that gap between passively and actively holding different beliefs to other people kind of a troubling one. It’s an implicit idea of, Yeah, I could think that. But I’m not stupid.

    Because obviously, the potential for belief is there. But by using my mind, I’ve taken a different tack.

    Anyhow. One thing I do believe is that this is a really nice idea.

  5. Kittenpants says:

    Not all my responses are showing up, but thanks, everyone, for the nice words!

  6. Simon Smithson says:


    That’s weird.

    The banner has just changed to an ad for The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas.

  7. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Hey, I enjoyed this. But maybe you need to throw in a plaid sweater or a random As Seen on TV gift every now and then, so you don’t start to see through the too-good-to-be-true self-charade? WWDD? 🙂

  8. Greg Olear says:

    You honor your father’s memory and clean out your wishlist. A win-win all around, no matter what your theological beliefs. Well played, Darci, just like that “Night of the Comet” DVD will be…

  9. Irene Zion says:


    This is an amazingly good idea.
    But, we are the oldest generation in our family now.
    Every year I will declare a day where everyone buys something they want, but wouldn’t buy for themselves, from me as a gift pre- my death.
    I won’t pick my birthday, cause it’s too close to Christmas.
    I will announce this to the family at Thanksgiving.
    September first every year, everyone buys something they want, and say it’s from me.
    Then they tell me what they bought themselves and I get to enjoy it.
    This is an excellent idea, Darci.

  10. Brad Listi says:

    this is great, darci…and yeah, i’ve had that thought too, the one about heaven….how people tend to imagine heaven as this big family reunion in the clouds….

    …despite the fact that most people don’t really like family reunions all that much…and they don’t really like clouds….(or cloudy days, i mean….or lots of them….)

    especially not for, like, eternity….

  11. Gloria says:

    I can’t wait to see the look on my face! You always have one line that makes me laugh from my belly, Darci. Damn, that’s funny.

    Sad, but sweet. Happy Thanksgiving and Gift From Dad Day, Darci!

  12. Matt says:

    Hmmm….is it all right if I take this idea and stretch it a little further? “Anniversary Gifts Ex-Girlfriends Would’ve Gotten Me If We’d Stayed Together” sounds like an opportunity ripe for exploration.

  13. M.J. Fievre says:

    I enjoyed your piece, Darci. I’m curious–how did you guys come up with the idea?

    • kittenpants says:

      I’m pretty sure my mom just bought herself a coat she wanted and told us, “I think this is what your Dad would have gotten me for Christmas this year.” Then my brother and I followed suit.

  14. […] DARCI RATCLIFF honors the Ghost of Christmas Dad. […]

  15. Marni Grossman says:

    I do similar things. Only my father’s alive. And I usually use his credit card. Bad daughter?

    (All joking aside, this was actually quite poignant. I’m so sorry about your dad.)

  16. christina says:

    i am so sorry for you loss but what a lovely tradition you’ve started.

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