Written by: Paige A. Mitchell
From burnt turkeys to minor injuries, our Hallmark holidays are often imperfect. Some of us have a hard time accepting that, but we, fortunately, have the optimistic believers who err toward the bright side things. I’ve learned, despite my anxiety and tendency toward perfectionism, that it’s best to take the latter route when it comes to the holidays.
Holidays are always stressful, but they really shouldn’t be. If you find yourself in an unfortunate situation this season, I hope you’ll find joy in my personal holiday disasters that ended up being some of the most memorable days of my life—in a good way!
The time the turkey tanked
I was only eight years old or so the first time the turkey tanked. My family filed into the van in our best dress—my siblings and I each holding a warm casserole dish on our laps. We headed over to my grandparents’ house early afternoon on Thanksgiving.
It was a sunny, crisp day and snow had already fallen in Northern Indiana. The first day of Christmas classics hummed through the radio. This 15-minute drive across town to grammy’s is permanently etched into my mind as the most beautiful holiday I can remember.
However, 15 minutes feels more or less like a lifetime to an eight-year-old. The three of us anxiously unbuckled before our parents had the car in park. We ran inside to greet cousins, leaving all three casseroles in the car for our parents to pick up.
We played, cooed at the new baby, and had to be hushed by an adult every few minutes. Pretty soon we exhausted all of our energy and looked toward the kitchen for our gravy-smothered fuel. But the turkey and grandpa were nowhere to be found.
At the time, I was totally unaware of what actually happened that Thanksgiving but my mother retells the tale every year. It turns out that grandpa was caught on the patio at the grill basting the turkey with lighter fluid to speed up the cooking process. Mom says she’s never seen grammy so embarrassed. Needless to say, we didn’t eat turkey that Thanksgiving but we have filled our kitchens with laughter for 12 consecutive years as we share the story with family and friends.
The second holiday food fail happened only three years later. This time, the weather was bone-chillingly cold. Wind whipped at our faces as we made a break for it toward the car. All three of us girls’ fresh curls were blown straight and dad was not looking forward to making the 30-minute drive to Aunt Jude’s across icy roads.
By the time we got to Aunt Jude’s, we were ready to get our winter coats off and enjoy a warm meal. That is not what Aunt Jude had in store for us though.
We opened the door to blaring smoke detectors and a foggy living room. Mom rushed to the kitchen to see what the fuss was about. I caught a glimpse of a smoking black turkey on the back porch and it was the first—and only—time I heard a curse word come out of my Aunt Jude’s mouth.
Now, it’s important to explain that my aunt is the most prepared host I’ve ever met. She has a second refrigerator solely dedicated to beverages because she believes “a good host has a flavor for everyone”. She has a homemade sheet cake in the freezer at all times just in case company stops by. She also believes cooking is simply a matter of following directions—anyone could do it. So, how could this turkey have burnt to a crisp under her watch?
Apparently, Aunt Jude’s oven had malfunctioned earlier in the week when she was baking cookies. Aunt Jude being Aunt Jude and always having all of her bases covered, she somehow finagled her home warranty company to replace the oven the very same day. Accustomed to her less-than-powerful 13-year-old oven, Aunt Jude put the turkey in for the same time and temperature she had been using for a decade. The brand new appliance smoked the turkey in no time at all. Whomp.
The incident unfortunately scarred Aunt Jude for life and she’s hasn’t hosted Thanksgiving since. It is, however, one of her favorite memories to recount of our late Uncle John who stood outside in slippers in the middle of a blizzard fire-extinguishing the burnt bird.
All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth
Here’s another holiday disaster that ends with a great, big grin. I was still a kid at this point and I remember this Christmas being extra special because we were spending the day with my grandpa, his new girlfriend, and her family. This was an exciting occasion for everyone because we hadn’t ever really seen grandpa happy until now. Grandma died when I was just a baby, so I grew up knowing grandpa as a slightly somber, very serious man. His new girlfriend Eleanor really put some light back into his life and it was heartwarming for everyone to experience.
Not to mention, Eleanor’s grandchildren are really fun. They are all gymnasts and they promised to show us their favorite flips after dinner. My highly uncoordinated siblings and I anxiously stared at the clock and asked to be excused from the dinner table three times before we were allowed to play in the basement. All of the kids rushed downstairs and sat on the floor as if we were spectators at a professional sporting event. All three of Eleanor’s grandkids back and front flipped on demand. They could even do no-handed cartwheels. We were amazed.
Then, Jenna, the youngest granddaughter, offered to perform her full routine she had been training for. She put in a CD, turned up the stereo, and shut off the lights. We all oohed and ahhed when she broke out the new strobe light that Santa had brought her that very morning. Eleanor’s basement was transformed into a total rave with the flip of a switch. Jenna took her stance, waiting for her brother to announce her act.
“And now, what you’ve all been waiting for,” he pointed at us. “The amazing Jenna!”
Jenna backflipped, somersaulted, cartwheeled, and landed in the splits more times than we could count. It all looked even more impressive as we could only catch flashes of movement in the pitch black basement. Then, we heard a bang and Jenna disappeared as she fell to the floor. We squinted at the strobe light. Was this a trick? The climax of her choreography?
Jenna’s brother knew better and flipped on the light to find a teary-eyed Jenna who was in total shock as she held her two front teeth.
We hustled upstairs in utter panic trying to tell the grown-ups what had happened while still downplaying the fact that we had been hosting the Winter Olympics in Eleanor’s house. The truth, of course, got out and Jenna’s mom popped both of her teeth into a glass of milk while her dad called every urgent care in the region.
The next time we saw Jenna, she had two false, pearly white teeth on a retainer. Her new trick? The great disappearing act of Jenna’s two front teeth.
I’ll have a blue Christmas
One thing you should know about me is that I love clothes. Therefore, one of my favorite parts about Christmas Day is getting to wear a new outfit to dinner. A few years ago, my fiancé enhanced my holiday tradition by getting me one high-end piece of clothing every year from a store I absolutely cannot afford otherwise. Two years ago, he bought me jeans, but not any old pair of jeans—Madewell jeans.
I was so anxious to wear them that I tore the tag off immediately despite them being half a size too tight and slightly too short. I paired it with a new sweater, shiny earrings, and sleek boots that click with each step—the “jingle bell” of the fashion world.
I got compliments galore that night and my fiance definitely earned some well-deserved brownie points from the family. We ate ham and sweet potatoes—the high-waisted pants felt like they were about to burst at this point. Then, we gathered ’round the living rooms to do our gift exchange with our cousins, nieces, and nephews. I cozied up on the floor as we passed our White Elephants to the left and to the right and to the right again. I ended up with a travel mug and Starbucks gift card—score!
A little while later, as we gathered our things to leave, I walked back to the living room to give the littles all a hug and kiss goodbye but I spotted a mysterious spot on Aunt Cheryl’s white carpet. I walked around it and blinked hard to make sure it wasn’t some strange reflection from the Christmas tree lights. It was still there. I ran my hand across the blue mark to see if something had spilled. Blue Kool-Aid is my nephew’s beverage of choice after all. But it wasn’t wet.
I stood up, cocked my head in puzzlement, and adjusted my pants that were really about to burst at the seams. And then it dawned on me. My brand new blue jeans must have bled onto the carpet while we were exchanging gifts!
I was so embarrassed that I actually debated whether I should even tell Aunt Cheryl. She had just put her house up on the market. Was she going to have to sell a blue stain as some kind of a package deal?
But alas, it was Christmas and you shouldn’t lie on Christmas, so I bashfully told my aunt what happened. She gracefully brushed it off as no problem. I think I was as red as Rudolph’s nose as I slumped out of the house that night.
She later assured me that she was able to get it out by shampooing the carpet, but I’m fairly certain she was just being nice so that I wouldn’t worry. Either way, it’s kind of funny to think that whoever lives there now probably gathers around that very same blue spot with their family every year to exchange gifts, share stories, and make memories just as we did.
So, how can you prevent a holiday disaster? Ditch the lighter fluid, invest in a home warranty but test drive the oven, be wary of white carpet, and don’t start your exercise regimen until after the New Year hangover subsides. In the event of a holiday disaster, simply laugh it off.
Paige A. Mitchell is a recent graduate and freelancer writer. She enjoys reviewing household products, writing about making our homes healthier and more functional, and blogging about personal experiences. You can learn more about her story from here.