Have yourself a Merry Ratchet Christmas

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Christmas is supposed to be a time for relaxing and rejoicing with friends, family and good food. But for us? We'll be out back drinking beer on the back porch, taping scratchoff lottery tickets to some tchotchke we're re-gifting from the office party.

Ratchet, as defined by the OED:

Def: busted, bootleg, half-assed; incoherently planned, of the lowest possible grade of quality, and outlandishly shoddy; flaked, worn, repurposed poorly, and/or cheap and disingenuous either by design or necessity; varying by geography from ghetto to country; generally referring to a dysfunctional state

This definition is not in the OED, and never will be because the OED is trash compared to Urban Dictionary. My Christmas will be a ratchet Christmas under the broadest possible definition of ratchet. It will be underfunded and poorly planned. It will not go well. It will embarrass you, and me, and anyone who participates in it, because Christmas, more than anything, is a referendum on your ability to be an organized, capable human.

You are not an organized, capable human. You, and I, and millions of others will be having a ratchet Christmas.


You will make none. Don't even get egg nog. Get custard, like, a week before, and drink it straight from the carton until you have just a drop or two left in the carton. Wait a few days, then spot it again when you open the fridge just to look at all the things you have in the fridge.

Then wonder: does custard go bad? Recoil, and realize that you don't even really know what custard is, or how it's made, or whether you need to take it to a special disposal place like batteries or old appliances. Leave it in the fridge. Yell out "this house is contaminated please leave" and make your relatives go somewhere else. Duct tape your refrigerator shut, and begin a new life in a new city.




If you decide to decorate your yard, take care to hit the sweet spot between cartoonish, sad, and macabre. The ideal ratchet christmas yard stocks as many inflatable cartoon holiday characters as possible, and then lets them deflate in the front yard for all to see. To the bystander, this should give the impression of discovering a mass suicide scene of inflatable snowmen, limp plastic reindeer, and at least one airless Santa staring forlornly at a winter sky. Do not feel bad for him: he's the cult leader, and started this entire horrible storyline.


If it can come out of a box, good. If it can be served in the box, better. And if it was ordered from Domino's or another large American chain whose food is at least 30 percent packing glue and other non-food materials, best. Pizza may not be the first food you think of for Christmas, but they do deliver when you've forgotten everything else. Make the holiday extra heartwarming by refusing to tip the delivery driver, and then openly bragging about it to your family to make sure they admire your thrift.

Those who do not bring food should interfere as clumsily as possible with the presentation of the food. I had one relative growing up who, unsolicited and unbidden, would drop a stick of butter in everything on the counter. I had another who would simply grab a hot plate and cook his own meals in an undershirt on the porch, partly because he didn't trust anyone else with the country ham, and partly because he wanted to be alone in his pajamas in thirty degree weather. I'd tell you about the other relative who just brought fresh Popeye's chicken, but this is actually a really, really good idea, and they don't deserve to be included in a list of holiday infamies.

When all else fails, pour candy haphazardly in bowls. This must be terrible candy: generic gumdrops, ancient, chalky butter mints, or licorice hard enough to be used as buckshot.  Young children should be allowed to feed directly from them like dogs, and then released into rooms full of fragile, tacky figurines.

P.S. Someone should be smoking furiously at all times indoors because this is their damn house, and your kids will just have to deal with it.


If you bring wine, take it home with you no matter how little there is left in the bottle. This will be a bottle of white zinfandel, and it will be served on ice in solo cups, but that should go without saying.

If you bring beer, it will come in one of two packages: 24 to a box, or in one enormous can or bottle. Again, it just feels so much more real to drink it outside in the cold alone, particularly if you smoke while you do it. Bud Ice is the most ratchet Christmas beer, though any beer of traditional Midwestern holiday blight will do if you drink more than twenty of them in a day. One Hamm's is sad, but thirty of them before midnight is practically its own stop-motion animation Christmas special.

If you wish to bring liquor, consider the following brands: Glenmore Gin (plastic bottle with E-Z grip handle), E&J Brandy, Mr. Boston's vodka, Cruzan Pineapple Rum, Inver House Scotch ("the label looks like an alcoholic's wallpaper," per David Roth,) and any tequila that came from a grocery store brand.


The best ratchet gifts come from uncles. They usually get them from the back of a gas station. If you have a Mapco nearby, go to the back for the best selection of possible ratchet-ass Christmas gifts.

If you're feeling especially generous, pair with some scratchoffs.

There is a knockoff Barbie back there. Her proportions are off, even for a Barbie. She is either suffering from a tapeworm or hydrocephaly, and a poorly stamped face made by a sleep-deprived Chinese laborer gives the impression of a powerful, sudden onset of a stroke. It is literally the worst vision of adult womanhood you could give a young girl, a tiny mutant Tara Reid created on a planet with irregular gravity and horrible notions of what femininity means. It is what you're going to give a young female relative.

If you're feeling especially generous, pair with some scratchoffs.

Boys are easier. My dead uncle gave me Aramis cologne for Christmas once, and he was one of the most ratchet people I ever knew. He would ask you things about "the number of negroes" at your high school, and remind you he was in Mensa. If anyone ever tells you they were in Mensa, just remember that my uncle was, too. I'm saying that Mensa members are full of shit, and that cologne is a terrible gift as long as you pay less than fifteen dollars a bottle for it.

You also can't go wrong with knives for young boys, particularly the scary ones designed for trucker self-defense they sell at large, brilliantly-lit gas meccas of the American roadway. If that fails, grab a pair of wiper blades for them. Even if they don't need them, they can probably return them for a car part an eight year old would really treasure, like a set of Yosemite Sam floormats.


That assumes you remember to give gifts at all. The real key to a Ratchet Christmas is forgetting to give any gifts at all, something I did for like eight years straight in my twenties. I would simply exist as I normally do, showing up to work and then home, and then one day someone would say "Oh, it's Christmas."

"Oh, it's Christmas" means doing nothing everyone else presumably did leading up to that moment: buying gifts, sending cards, purchasing special outfits for the moment, and carefully considering holiday meals. It means finding someone else with a gift for your mother -- most likely a responsible sibling -- and writing your name on the tag.


Your mom noticed, but she understands. She doesn't forgive, mind you. But she understands.

Other suggested gift ideas for those who forgot it was Christmas:

  • Gift cards. Best if mismatched by interest or availability, like sending your relatives in Wisconsin gift cards from your local pool supply store in Florida
  • A picture of yourself. No returns, no possible commentary, and zero utility whatsoever
  • Half a sub sandwich
  • An open bottle of liquor
  • A Gangnam Style t-shirt
  • Specialty equipment purchased from a store that doesn't specialize in said equipment, like a tennis racquet from Walgreens or a CPAP machine from Payless
  • Stolen hotel toiletries
  • Yankee Candle anything
  • A donation in your name to the gift giver's church (bonus points if gift giver is the pastor of that church)
  • The free gift you got at the register for buying something else
  • The EXACT SAME THING YOU GOT SOMEONE LAST YEAR. (<--I have actually done this. Twice.)


This is Ratchet Christmas. You will have to fight someone, probably over an insult to your children, or more likely because you insulted someone's children, or because you disagree on important issues like whether Phil Robertson is wrong or right about man-butt. You can do a lot of things to make it the ratchetiest Ratchet Christmas of all, but nothing beats the topper of having to drive four hours back home because you punched someone over Jesus.

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