My 1993 Christmas Tiki Hut.

Hot damn, I finally found it. Photographic evidence of that weird thing I did back in junior high.

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For several years, I used our family’s Christmas Eve party as an excuse to throw my own. Guests were encouraged away from the dinner table and into my bedroom, for a look at what I called THE CHRISTMAS TIKI HUT.

Basically, I transformed my bedroom (which by that point was a large room downstairs) into party central. A huge table at the back was covered with all sorts of store-bought snacks and drinks, plus goofy appetizers of my own design. (Uh oh.)

I was big into Tiki culture, owing to Archie McPhee and our one local Polynesian restaurant. Remember the bar from Goodfellas? This was my version of it. Christmas lights mixed with ceramic Tiki tumblers. An ambiance best described as “yard sale with food.”

This photo only tells part of the story. My entire bedroom was decorated for the occasion. You know those little Santa hats that they sell for pets? They were all over my action figures. And my God, the entertainment! Christmas movies playing all day long, and by “Christmas movies” I of course mean “Return of the Jedi.”

My family indulged me, not because they wanted to eat cheese that had been sitting out for sixteen hours, but because it was obviously so important to me. For a few years, I cared more about my Tiki Hut than any other Christmas-related thing.

The best part might have been the shopping. Every year, I’d beg someone to take me to Price Club, which was the precursor to Costco. Using money that couldn’t have been mine, I’d load up on jumbo-sized packages of snacks that only a thirteen-year-old psychopath would dream of serving for Christmas.

People nibbled, but most of the spread was still fully intact by the end of the night. Since much of that spread consisted of the same junk food I already lived on, I didn’t mind. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I was never anything but alarmingly bloated.

The Christmas Tiki Hut worked like a cocktail hour, or maybe a cocktail half an hour. Everyone would pile in. The adults would pretend to eat and drink. The children would actually eat and drink. Soon enough, they’d be back upstairs for the rest of the party. (I took no offense to how long anyone stayed, as long as everyone showed up.)

When I zoom into the stuff on that table, I’m surprised that they were so agreeable. Many of these foods would’ve been questionable even if they weren’t being served in a kid’s filthy bedroom. On Christmas Eve.

Let’s examine!

fish

Giant bowl of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish!

You know those huge cartons of Goldfish that are generally only found at warehouse stores? This was that, emptied into the world’s biggest salad bowl. The menus of my Tiki Huts varied, but Goldfish crackers were always there.

coconut

Tiki cups!

There were Tiki cups all over the table, for decorative use only. (Heaven help the person who drank from one of my beloved Tiki cups!)

Most were gotten from Chinese restaurants. Sometimes they’d let me have them for free. Other times, they charged me six bucks or something. I still have most of them, including this “Fu Manchu” character.

Note the coconut accessory. My understanding of Tiki culture was and remains perfectly cliché.

crackers

Cheese and crackers!

You can tell that this was the work of a child. Triscuits and plain old Saltines, joining three tubs of God Knows What Cheese. For added appeal, I garnished the platter with loose piles of cranberries. Huh?

slim

The coffee carafe full of Slim Jims!

Using a rusted carafe as an odd bowl, guests were encouraged to eat their weight in spicy meat sticks. The reason there are so few isn’t because anyone actually did that. It’s because I spent the week prior gorging on my supply. (The speed with which I plowed through a 48-pack of giant Slim Jims still ranks as one of my greatest shames.)

straws

Goofy Tiki straws!

Well, duh. You can’t have a Christmas Tiki Hut without goofy straws. Each had a foldout something-or-another, from palm trees to exotic fruits.

(I pushed those straws pretty hard, too. Since the food was so weird, most of my guests opted for a simple drink. They might’ve regretted it once finding out that it was illegal to drink my fruit punch unless you used a goofy straw that’d been sitting in a dirty Tiki cup.)

cheese

Fancy hors d’oeuvres!

First are many chunks of cheese. Looks like I couldn’t settle on any one style. Some of it was cubed. Some of it was in neat slices. And some of it was apparently whittled into the loose shapes of kayaks.

But even better was my ultimate specialty: Hardboiled eggs topped with too much cheap caviar. (“Red monkfish caviar” – the kind grocery stores leave out at room temperature for years at a time.)

NOBODY ate those, nor did I expect them to. I just refused to let any Christmas season slip by without getting funky with dyed fish eggs. We all had our quirks.

olive

The Olive Christmas Tree!

I wish I had a better photo of this. The Olive Christmas Tree was such a triumph.

I’d inherited an oddball Christmas decoration – some green tree made out of foam. With the help of toothpicks, I covered the entire thing in pimento-stuffed olives.

I WAS SO PROUD OF THIS.

My family doesn’t read Dino Drac. Not right now, at least. Someday, I’ll end up on a special report, and they might want to pinpoint the exact moment where everything went wrong. It could lead them here.

So guys, if you ever read this… I’m really sorry that I made you eat olives off of a foam Christmas tree. Your patience was the stuff of legends.

well

The Almighty Tiki Shrine!

And here it is! The crème de la crème! All of the other things in my Christmas Tiki Hut were just small waves, lapping up to this big giant rock.

For many years, I’d spied a strange wicker wishing well in the corner of our attic. I didn’t know what it was, but I NEEDED to make it a part of my bedroom.

In 1993, my parents finally let me drag it out. The well had been a mainstay at our family’s bridal showers. I don’t know if this is a still-done tradition, but brides-to-be would receive small, practical household items, all of which were thrown into the well. This thing had been in our family for generations, marking only the most special of occasions. And then I turned it into a goddamned Easter Island shrine.

On top is a moai statue that my brother found in Disney World many years prior. He eventually let me have it, and it’s still one of my prized possessions. That statue was a key component in all of my Christmas Tiki Huts… and Birthday Tiki Huts… and much rarer Independence Day Tiki Huts.

Even today, it’s one of the few things that I’m actually careful with.

So there you go. One of my most important childhood traditions, finally revealed.

I used to decorate my bedroom like Fake Hawaii, and make everyone eat Slim Jims.

Merry Christmas!


76 Responses to My 1993 Christmas Tiki Hut.

  1. The little girl in this photo is now in her 20s. JEEEEEZ.

  2. Sounds like a party to me. Nothing says Christmas like ROTJ.

  3. Holy shit, you were the greatest kid. This is spectacular. I once made my entire family partake in a “Hawaiian Night” on our back porch. My grandmother wore a lei and everyone drank pineapple juice and I have photos of this atrocity as well. It occurs to me that I now have a back porch once again, and friends who will do whatever I say.

  4. I know your tone in writing and posting articles like this one is really self-depreciating, but I really appreciate getting to read about Kid Matt. I think, if maybe not done with as much gusto as this, every kid had their equivalent of the Christmas Tiki Hut. It’s good to know one’s not alone in inflicting weird shit on their older relatives.

    Now I want me some goldfish crackers…

  5. I had no idea tiki culture was a thing that someone could even be into, but now I feel like I’ve missed out on something vital.

  6. Yep. I love you.

  7. As public as these events were with your family, this is still a pretty intimate topic to share with us. Huge thanks for doing so! Everybody has their weird quirks, superstitions, etc, while only a few have the courage to share them.

    While I never did anything similar to this, I did (and still do) have my weirdness. This only reaffirms that being weird is totally normal and okay.

  8. This is really cute. Coming from another dude, I don’t care. You decorated your bedroom in a Christmas Tiki cocktail theme and had people mingle around eating Triscuit crackers and Slim Jims. . Pretty amazing.

  9. Fantastic! This something I would probably do. (also a heads up “movies” is misspelled in the 4th paragraph under the first picture)

  10. Glad to see Archie McPhee catalogs had an impact outside of my home town of Seattle. I was in my late teens/early 20′s around this time and two of my friends worked at the old Stone Way store. We used to loiter there often drinking free lattes and they are both featured in many of the old catalogs and product cards. I still get stocking stuffers for my kids from the new location.

  11. You know what, Return of the Jedi does have a kind of Christmasy feel to it, to me at least. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact memory, but Christmas of ’83 I was three years and several months old. So maybe it’s a foggy, early memory of mine from having seen ROTJ toys in stores.

  12. Mattt, After a decade of following your blog you only NOW share this with us?
    Seems like a new tradition may start at my house.

  13. I think the evil tiki doll from “Trilogy of Terror” is one of the most underrate monsters ever.

    Legends of the Hidden Temple was a Cool gamehow.

    That is all I know abut tikis.

  14. “The speed with which I plowed through a 48-pack of giant Slim Jims still ranks as one of my greatest shames.”

    If you were a ‘Gamer’ this would be your greatest accomplishment!

  15. This is wonderful. I remember making up lots of stuff that I’d make my family participate in (once I demanded we have a fancy dinner, and even scripted the conversation!). Sadly I was the only kid around so the grownups would never get into as much as I would of hoped.

    Thanks for sharing this memory Matt,if I knew you back then, I would have adored you so much, and would definitely have wanted to come to your Tiki hut.

  16. I am crying at the notion of a coffee carafe full of Slim Jims! And the handful of cranberries on the cheese & cracker plate! Aw, bless your heart.

  17. Goddamnit, Matt. After all of these years, this is the most charming thing you’ve done. This is the kind of thing I dreamt about doing when I was the same age, but you pulled it off, you magnificent bastard.

    I’m totally considering doing this now, if only to try and catch up to you at 13.

  18. This is friggin adorable and charming! And totally trumps my card table at my bedroom door selling original artwork, fortunes or jokes for $1.

  19. Great post, Matt! It was heartfelt, and not many stories about Slim Jims and attics achieve that. You are a holiday genius!

  20. Matt, this is amazing. I mean, amazing. I don’t know why you knock the food, though, I would eat goldfish crackers and cheese any day of the week.

    Reminds of the time I set up a “Shark Museum” on a cardboard table in my living room, with various Shark facts littered around. I had notes and everything.

  21. I think I love you, Matt. I do hope that isn’t totally creepy, since I’m old enough to be your mother.

  22. That is just… beautiful. I’m surprised more people didn’t dig into the giant bowl of Gold Fish crackers.

  23. I loved this article. So cool, I wish I was at that party, you would have been such a kick ass cousin.

  24. I honestly think this is my favorite of all your articles in recent history. I can’t believe you blew this on a Wednesday afternoon – this is Friday night material.

    I am putting this on the inspiration board for planning my next soiree. No goldfish crackers, though.

  25. This is amazing! Had I gone to a party back then and there was a room set up just like this, I would have never left. Actually, if I went to a party set up like this NOW I would never leave.

    Those hardboiled eggs look really tasty too. It would go really well with the cheese cubes.

  26. Perhaps on Christmas Eve this year I will snap into a Slim Jim in your honor.

  27. This really makes me miss that magical certain something that we had as children that we lose as we age. It’s difficult to put into words, but this is it… right there in the article.

    This is one of the best, Matt. Thanks for sharing it.

  28. Loved this! Now I really want some goldfish crackers. I finally tried the flavor-blasted ones and they are so addictive I only allow myself to buy them once a season!

    I used to make my parents let me have holiday parties when I was around 9-13 because I liked to organize the games, prizes, crafts, and food. St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s, several Halloween, and one Christmas party where I remember everyone decorated mini-wreaths. With my birthday in May and my brother’s in July I guess I needed something to do during the birthday party off-season! Sadly, no photo evidence of these parties exists.

  29. Thanks, all!

    I’m trying to remember if this was the same Tiki Hut that had the glass, tree-shaped vase that I filled with red and green peanut M&M’s.

    …which stayed in my bedroom for years, congealing into a mass of slimy, irremovable chocolate.

    Confession over.

  30. I agree with Terror Claws. That sounds like a good time. The food looks good to me. Plus,, I totally would have watched ROTJ while eating.What’s not to like.

  31. Very nice, Matt, And as TF above said this shows that somewhat magical time in our lives when we weren’t yet grown up and our minds worked differently. I’m wracking my brain to think of something similar I did but all that comes to mind was when I was convinced if I put on a red sweat shirt and homemade cotton beard I could come down from the attic and convince my four year old brother I was Santa Claus.
    I don’t remember if my mother let me do it or not, but I remember really believing I could pull it off.

  32. Hopefully without sounding totally creepy here…I’ve been reading your site(s) for so long I almost feel like I’d be qualified to write some sort of unauthorized biography about you, but just when I think I’ve seen it all, you surprise us with a gem like this.

    I swear, your real life was like one of those zany kids’ rooms in an ’80s movie that seemed too cool to be real!

  33. These are my favorite kind of posts. Thanks Matt from never shying away from your past and instead relishing in it and sharing it with us. I find it such an endearing quality that all us continual readers keep religiously coming back for. Thanks for being you damnit!

  34. “Young Matt” stories are my favorite!

    That party looks really fun. I associate Return of the Jedi with Christmas too, and I really don’t know why.

  35. That looks like a lot of fun. My siblings and I would do something similar on Christmas Day for our high school pals later in the 90s, but in 1993, we were mostly just helping Mom and Dad wrap presents and deal with our 1-year-old brother. (Who just turned 21 last month. JEEEEZ indeed.)

  36. Matt, I know you live in Staten Island, but if you’re ever in Alphabet City you should totally check out Otto’s Shrunken Head if you’ve never been. It’s a tiki bar with a bit of punk mixed in, but they sell many of those same tiki glasses (including that Fu Manchu) for $5 and the decor is incredibly tacky. I’m not sure whether or not they decorate for Christmas, but I can promise you they have lamps made from puffer fish!

  37. This is great! At 13, Idon’t think I would have been as committed to something like this. But I can totally feel the triumph you must have felt. :)

  38. That’s cool that you had that kind of of imagination to want to throw a tiki party in your room at 13. Was this influenced by your older siblings? I didn’t want anyone in room my at 13.

  39. Ok Matt, you had me at carafe full of Slim Jims. Then I saw that fu Manchu tiki glass. What a thing of beauty!

    I just looked online and found a few places that sell them—for 5 bucks! Merry Christmas to me and thanks for the inspiration!

  40. I laughed so many times during this. I feel like this a big moment in XE/DD history. Thanks.

    Would you say your brother having that beautiful tiki head perhaps influenced your whole fascination with them in the first place?

  41. Great article, Matt. This is the stuff of pure GOLD.

  42. Hahahaha this is wonderful…
    Kinda wish I’d had a big family that would indulge me.

  43. Gweff: I agree, this is a big deal! This has a VERY old school Matt feel to it. Great stuff! I love when Matt writes about something he really cares about. It conveys emotion that really does transfer to the reader.

    So Matt, Thanks for sharing the joy!

  44. Reminds me of when I was about 12 and I put on a production with my Crimp and Curl Cabbage Patch doll. I dressed her as a harem lady and had her dance to Liberian Girl by Michael Jackson. The set was my closet, with my sister holding a flashlight for lighting and my parents the unwitting audience. I am still horrified when I remember that.

  45. That’s really weird. Of course, that’s what makes it so awesome.

  46. Are you sure you weren’t adopted? From your videos you don’t seem to have any family resemblance to the little girl pictured here, especially in the big giant red block head part.

  47. I agree with all of the above comments. This is hilarious, heartwarming and amazing all at the same time. I will probably read this several more times before Christmas. Cheers!

  48. This is so great. There isn’t a thing I don’t love about this. Well, that’s not exactly true. I don’t like olives. Or hardboiled eggs. But everything else, I LOVE.

  49. I can see your large extended family really enjoy your eccentric soirée. I know I did.

  50. Outstanding story! Quite a good spread as well. Most of those foods are part of my usual Christmas buffet to this day so I think you would have fared very well in these parts.
    Oddly, even though I’m the designated deviled egg guy, I’ve never used caviar in them. Everyone else hates fish eggs so I should try it out. If nothing else it should keep people from bugging me for eggs every damn holiday.

    Seriously great story though. Maybe it’s time for the tiki hut to become a tradition again to go along with the mood tables.

    Oh, and thanks for responding to my comment on the Christmas crunch post. May not seem like much but it made me beam with pride.

  51. Matt, I would spend Christmas in your tiki shack any day. This hits way too close to home, I insisted on having my own 6ft. tacky white tree in my tiny room every year, and forced my friend to help me draw ornaments for it on cardboard. Now pass the crappy fish eggs on eggs.

  52. Nothing short of amazing

  53. You are so lucky to have a photo of this phenomena actually happening! I feel like our generation was the last one before everyone had the ability to snap photos at any moment. If this was posted on someone’s blog 20 years from now, they’d have photos documenting every single facet of the Christmas Tiki Hut. From its inception, to three days later when the tubs of cheese start to attract pests.
    Of course, it’s the lack of photos that makes it all the better.
    I wish I had photos of some of the cool stuff I did as a kid. Like the “Air Shows” where I would charge my parents a quarter apiece to sit in a chair and have me throw paper airplanes at them while I played dramatic music on my sister’s boombox.

  54. Simply Amazing! That is all.

  55. Seriously, who knew Matt, that you were the host with the most? Do you still do anything like this? And thanks for opening up a little more of your soul and revealing something that most people would be too embarrassed to share. That says a lot about you, all positive.

  56. I loved reading this article. I can almost always project myself into your younger selfs position when I read articles of you reminiscing of days long past. Not this one though. This is my older brother through and through. He was really good at making party guests attend something silly he is throwing together if only for a moment.

  57. Thanks for sharing, Matt! I’m about as un-picky an eater as you’ll find so even at a young age I would have dug into the various cheeses, crackers, and of course, went full-on “Macho Man” and snapped into a Slim Jim before replicating his patented flying elbow drop off of your bed onto a pillow opponent on the floor.

    I think when my son Owen gets older I’ll persuade him to invent his own goofy yet totally him X-Mas tradition. Something he can look back at from adulthood with the same reverence.

  58. Oh man, that was amazing. ROtJ makes perfect sense to me, probably because one of the 3 stations I got as a kid would play the Star Wars movies almost every Christmas.

  59. Oh my gawd, “Kid Matt True Confessions” are my FAVORITE (although the old “Substance-Impaired-Matt Movie Reviews” are a close second). I totally love you, in that normal way that it’s okay for a married lady to love a guy whose blog she reads on the internet. Mele Kalikimaka.

  60. I have never been more in love with you than right now. I used to get up to the exact bizarre stuff when I was around the same age. I didn’t host Tiki parties in my bedroom, but I remember be excited at the prospect of making and serving food, and ENTERTAINING. It’s one of those things where you just feel so grown up right?

    There was other weird shenanigans I got up to at that age, like wearing a beret. I was convinced it made me look older and bad-ass because there was a boy in Little Monsters who wore a beret and I thought it made him look bad-ass. This was during my “I’m going to move into the woods and live off the land” phase too. That consisted of carrying an army-fatigue messenger bag around with me everywhere I went, with survival guides, water-proof matches, a swiss-army knife, and other odds and ends in it. So I was basically a 13 year old with a beret and a purse thinking he was the equivalent of RAMBO or something.

    I know that’s not the equivalent of a Tiki Christmas hut, but its one of those weird affectations that early teenagers latch onto because it makes them feel more adult.

    And before you ask… No. There are no pictures of me in my beret and purse ensemble, which also included fingerless weight-lifting gloves.

  61. Wow! What an awesome post Matt! Totally enjoyed reading this slice of Christmas past. I admire your enthusiasm as a young kid to think outside the box!

  62. Fantastic article. There’s so much stuff in the spread that’s just screams X-E / Dino Drac. There’s cranberries, cheap neon fish eggs (tobiko), and of course the whole Tiki theme.

    I’m generally not one to find things endearing, but it’s endearing that a lot of X-E / Dino Drac’s preoccupations are on display here.

  63. Matt, you had to have had parents who also moonlighted as Patron Saints of Patience. My parents were willing to indulge in some weird idiosyncrasies that I had, but every time you reveal an “young matt” piece it seems like your parents went above and beyond the “Well he’s a kid, let em have this one” and jumped head first into the “I’m ready to invest millions!” phase. Kudos to them.

  64. What a special find! Thanks for sharing. I love these posts the best. :-)

  65. @The Goodwill Geek

    That is just amazing! What’s best is somehow I knew you must have had fingerless gloves before you even mentioned them. The whole story just made me envision a tiny variant of Bruce Dern from the Burbs.

  66. Return of the Jedi et al, brings back great Christmas Day memories. One of my best Christmases was when I was really sick and I couldn’t go to the annual celebration at grandma’s house. My brother and I stayed home alone playing our brand new Nintendo games and taking breaks to watch the Star Wars marathon. I would give anything to be able to have those simple times of happiness again!

  67. @Brian (Review the World) I don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage you’re son too do this sort of thing. It has to happen of his own free will. Otherwise it’s not authentic. I think it’s neat that Matt did this, but I never would have thought to do anything remotely similar to it.

  68. Thanks for the feedback on this one, all! All read and appreciated. And this will tie into something else I’ve never confessed, but that won’t come until 2014.

  69. Matt come to new zealand. This is something that I did when I was a kid except it was with generic winter decorations. This isn’t wierd because in N.Z christmas is in summer. I was basically in charge of the appetizers for the kids.

    I put so much snow in a can around the room that I’m surprised people weren’t getting high from the fumes. It would be so christmassy getting high off snow.

  70. I didn’t have a separate party, perse’ but I used to have a separate “space” on the tables for the hordeurve’s that I made myself. my last christmas at home, I remember bringing around one of my two dwarf hamsters, Shiggy co co pops. I put her in her ball, and invited the young’uns to come down to the rec room for hamster “bowling”. Shigs would love to run straight into a a pyramid of disposable cups and knock them down, chasing them in her ball when they fell.

    I was made fun of by my younger cousin, who called me Lenny, from Mice and Men. Then we would play ps2 or gamecube. I think it was 2004? Yeah, I was 26 and my fiance’ now husband, were in charge of keeping the kids occupied. A 17 yr old and 4 yr. old

  71. i’ve been lurking and reading this site and your former one for years now. this may be the single greatest thing i’ve read on here. outstanding.

  72. I’m new to your blog and I love it already!! This is just great. Really. Tiki culture has pretty much nothing to do with Hawaii (I live there) so I thoroughly enjoyed your account! I learned quite a bit about Tiki culture and had many laughs. Maybe it’s time to resurrect the olive tree? It could be a tradition!!

  73. Red Monkfish Caviar?!?!?!
    Red….Monkfish…..Caviar?!?!?!?!?!?!?
    Your my f#ckin hero man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    The Slim Jims were also sweet touch, your what Christmas is all about my friend.
    Max Fischer would be so proud!
    Peace out, and good will toward monkfish!

  74. I think I missed this one before, but I think “adorable” might be a suitable word to describe it. ;)

    Really, this sounds like a blast! I can only assume that really top-tier stuff like shrimp, fried mozzarella sticks, and… Er, beer, I guess– were being served upstairs to drag people away from this.

    I had my own little thing I did for a while, largely for my own amusement: Decorating the Ninja Turtles’ lair with lights from one of my old Construx sets for Christmas. This isd a lot cooler, though.

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