Festive occasions can go horribly awry, as these tales from Real Simple readers prove.
My in-laws were having Christmas dinner at our house for the first time, and I wanted everything to be perfect. I cooked my turkey and the giblets before we left for the family Christmas Eve party. Both were left on the back of the stove to cool. Imagine my shock when we returned to find that our boxer had eaten the turkey and we had to find a replacement at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
Cooking goose for Christmas dinner. The butcher neglected to tell me about the reduced net weight of geese as they roast. When the final timer rang, I looked into the oven to see two roasting dishes full of fat and approximately two pounds of goose meat to feed 11 people. What was intended to be an elegant feast turned out to be a bit of Dickens gone awry.
When I was first married, I didn’t know that when making mashed potatoes, you were supposed to use the hand mixer, not the blender. When I put the hot potatoes in the blender and shut the cover and turned it on, they exploded everywhere, including the ceiling.
Mayville, North Dakota
Christmas Eve, 10 days early, at the home of my grandparents. Don’t even think of bringing any presents for Grandma and Grandpa or they won’t speak to you for the rest of the year. The children will be getting socks, underwear, and sweats that are three sizes too big, probably wrapped in birthday wrapping paper, which you will leave behind for next year. Grandpa and the uncles will watch a sporting event the entire time and not speak to you about anything but said sporting event. The TV will be cranked to a maximum volume so Grandpa can hear the commentators. Cousin Kay will be wearing an inappropriate outfit, and Aunt Em will be a loud talker. Everyone will bring an appetizer; premade cheesecake and greasy meatballs will be provided. Aunt Em will be whipping up some type of grub. Eat at your own risk! If you try to throw any food away, Grandpa will put you in a headlock, then talk about the Depression.
When I was younger, it was tradition to get a new pair of sneakers for Christmas. We also bought my grandfather a new pair. Needless to say, my pair was accidentally sent to him. Come Christmas morning, he opened a brand-new pair of tiny purple Nikes. He tried to act excited.
I desperately wanted to find the perfect hostess gift to impress my husband’s aunt and uncle. We settled on a poinsettia, but the only one we could afford had clearly seen better days. His aunt accepted it at the door and proceeded to place it in a beautiful bay window filled with gorgeous poinsettias. I hoped it was the thought that counted.
When my children were young, I was the typical mom, shooting tons of holiday photos for the scrapbooks. One year, after many agonizing photo setups with props (tree, decorations, etc.) and after having taken dozens of photos of my family, I discovered that I hadn’t loaded film into the camera. I didn’t have the heart to tell everyone that all the time spent on setting up the perfect photo opportunities was for naught.
Charlotte, North Carolina
It was one of the first Christmases my husband and I spent together. We had been invited to several family dinners and decided to attend one later in the evening. We arrived at the chosen dinner to find that the couple had gotten inebriated and therefore hadn’t cooked. My husband and I wound up eating hot dogs at a gas station as nothing was open on the 25th. And to top it off, while I ate my Christmas dinner, the hot dog landed on my blouse and got mustard all over me. The holiday meal is always at our house now.
It was Thanksgiving, and I was having only a few people over for dinner. I decided to get the smallest turkey I could find. I got a turkey at the grocery store that seemed like just the size I had in mind, about eight pounds. At our dinner, as we were eating, someone said, “This turkey tastes like chicken.” I said it was turkey but then realized that the package didn’t say anywhere that it was turkey. It didn’t really say what it was. It said it was a roaster. Well, this was the time I learned that a “roaster” meant chicken, not turkey.
Rocky Point, New York
Our biggest holiday mishap happened when I was about 14 years old. It was Thanksgiving dinner. My mother is known for her great chicken and dressing. We ran out of room in the fridge, but since we lived in Illinois and it was so cold, we decided to use the garage steps to house the pan with the chicken and dressing. My mother missed the step and tripped. The entire pan dumped right onto the garage floor, and then she stepped in it! We had no time to prepare another pan, so we got down and scooped it back up and put it back in the pan. We didn’t tell a soul. All during dinner, she got rave reviews on how great her dressing was.
My family, like most, can be quite intense when you get us all together. My cousins all had multiple children a few years ago, and the chaos became less quaint. I appreciate children, but six screaming toddlers and 12 loud adults were too much to take. I walked in the door on Christmas Day and immediately had a panic attack. I spent most of the next two hours hiding in the bathroom until I could leave. Now I see my family members only in pairs.
One Thanksgiving morning, I had been up for a couple of hours and was enjoying my coffee and preparing dishes for our huge family feast. My granddaughter woke up, went to her comfortable chair to read, and minutes later said, “Um, Grandma. Do you know there’s an opossum under this table?” Of course, I laughed at her humor, until something told me to check it out―and sure enough, there he sat under the end table. I won’t take the time to tell you how he got there, but suffice it to say that animal control was there in minutes and the only animal we shared our dinner with was the turkey.
Telling my husband’s mother that her stuffing was terrible because I thought someone else had made it.
Deer River, Minnesota
Thanksgiving in Dallas, a family of 20 waiting in the dining room, me in the kitchen with my sister-in-law, who startled me as I was turning around with a 15-pound ham on a plate. The ham did a half gainer off the plate, scoring a 9.5, but belly flopped onto the floor. We congratulated the ham by eating it anyway.
I was cooking my first turkey dinner and had a houseful of people. In that mad frenzy 20 minutes before you put it all on the table, I was making gravy. I meant to grab the bottle of Gravy Master from the cupboard but mistakenly grabbed a bottle of vanilla and didn’t realize it until it was too late. Definitely a new take on turkey gravy that I would not recommend. My brother-in-law has never let me forget that day, and now when I set my Thanksgiving table, I put the bottle of vanilla at his place, just in case he wants to add a little.
Cheektowaga, New York
I had too much to drink at my company’s holiday party and almost walked off with the dinner-table centerpiece. I had been to seven weddings that year and was used to the brides offering up the floral arrangements at the end of the night. Only this time, the banquet manager stopped me and said, “You can’t take that! Put it back!”
My two youngest sons, who were 3 and 4 years old at the time, were playing in the dining room while I was vacuuming the house. Then suddenly it got quiet―too quiet. I ran into the room only to find that my two boys had unwrapped every gift under the tree, well before the big day. There they stood with wide-eyed excitement, holding the trucks and cars they had just discovered inside the torn wrapping paper, which was now covering our living room. I chuckle about it today because my sons are 30 and 31 with boys of their own.
Minot, North Dakota
Fighting with my sister as adults. Something about returning to my childhood home made me act like a child. I’ve finally grown out of that behavior, but I regret every holiday we ever fought. The older I get and the closer we become, the more I realize how much I need family in my life, especially my sister.
In 1994 my husband and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. My father and stepmother and all my husband’s family were coming for the big feast. I didn’t have enough wineglasses for all; nor did we have much cash to buy nice glasses. I bought some cheap wineglasses but didn’t know exactly how cheap until they were on the table being filled and started breaking. We broke 12 of 16 wineglasses just by filling them―at the table, of course, with the meal spread out before us and a very soggy tablecloth. Luckily, the turkey was cooked to perfection, and the wine tasted just as good in juice glasses.
I neglected to defrost the bird. I called home and was told to put it in a tub with cold water to thaw. A male friend did just that while I continued talking with my dad. Next thing I heard was my friend in the background yelling, “I can’t get her legs open!” I thought my father would have a heart attack. Needless to say, dinner was at 10 p.m., not 3 p.m.
Trying too hard to please everyone, cramming too much into too few minutes, and forcing everyone to “have a good time or else.”
Last Thanksgiving, everything went wrong. We borrowed a neighbor’s oven to warm the stuffing but forgot to turn the oven on. My husband labored for hours over a giblet gravy, and I accidently dumped it down the sink. Then two little kids at the party overstuffed the toilet with tissue and flushed it over and over. Water flowed like a river down the hallway. We resorted to tequila shots at noon, and everyone agreed it was the best holiday ever.
My parents and godmother are master song-parody writers. But as a child, I failed to see that some of their lines could be offensive. One Christmas Eve, I burst into a parody about one of my cranky uncles set to the tune of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It started a feud that lasted for almost a decade, but it’s still the number one story told around the tree.
Oxford, New York
I wish I could tell you. But my extended family reads Real Simple. If they saw what I confess here, I would never hear the end of it.