The best stories from Carolyn Hax’s holiday live chats

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

The holiday season means advice columnist Carolyn Hax’s annual celebration of holiday horror stories is around the corner. Since 2000, readers have shared their favorite holiday memories, whether they be the most ridiculous or touching, to the special live chat, also known as the Holiday Hootenanny.

In December 2000, Carolyn wrote an article, “Great Expectations,” about the highs and irrational lows the anticipation of the holidays brings. In a live chat discussing the piece, readers shared how their own expectations of the holidays were let down in all kinds of hilarious ways — and the hootenanny was born.

In the years since, many have brought big laughs recounting their stories of holiday celebrations gone haywire. Before this year’s hootenanny, read through past years’ live chats that have made this tradition special. These stories have become often referenced lore in Carolyn’s reader community.

If you think we missed an essential hootenanny moment, let us know here. If you’re new to the live chat or the column, this glossary of terms might be helpful.

Death Chair (2000)

From the very first Hootenanny comes the Death Chair story about one family’s cursed seat at the head of the holiday dining table. You can probably guess what happened to a couple of the reader’s relatives who sat there. The original poster even gave readers an update 18 years later!

Bonus: This chat also, separately, features the Reindeer Poop Award.

The first holiday chat (2000)

Exploding Tequila Turkey (2010)

A turkey, a tequila sauce, a ball of fire. What more do you need?

(See also the exploding Bacardi ham of 2016.)

The 2010 Holiday Hootenanny of Horrors

The Stuffing Incident (2015)

The absence of stuffing at Thanksgiving causes one reader to have an epic meltdown that is fondly remembered by many live chat participants. If you thought this would be the end of the original poster’s stuffing woes, their update one year later will prove you wrong.

Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2015

Naked Susan (2018)

The Naked Susan story begins with an innocent enough family game of charades but has an ending for the hootenanny ages that includes a significant cliffhanger. Don’t worry — the original poster came back with a much-asked about update the next year.

Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2018

Celery Man (2020)

The 2020 Holiday Hootenanny came in hot with a decaying, 20-something-year-old gag centerpiece made of food scraps. Celery Man has leafy jazz hands, three toothpick legs and a place of honor every holiday season. The original poster sent over a photo of the celery man, seen here in a reply to Carolyn’s greeting in the next week’s live chat.

Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2020

Remixed version of “A Visit from St. Nicholas"

Carolyn shares a remixed version of Clement C. Moore’s poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” by her dad, John Hax, in many of the hootenannies. What began as a holiday tradition from the Hax household became a hootenanny mainstay.

The poems are mini time capsules with their references to the political climate or popular celebrities of the moment — like the 2012 version with the lines, “On Newt and Michelle. On Rick, Ron and Mitt.”

Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2012