Christmas Calamities: What Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong

One unlucky family marks the holidays with an annual household disaster

If a Christmas tree falls in the living room and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

I’ll leave that one to the philosophers — but what I do know is that it makes an ungodly mess. Last year during this most joyous of seasons, my family’s tree kept toppling like a drunk at a holiday party, depositing ornaments (and pieces thereof), pine needles, and sap-laced water all over the rug and our gifts.

This gravity-challenged Tannenbaum was in keeping with a family tradition of holiday calamities that began after my wife and I moved our brood to the Hudson Valley 14 years ago. The very first Yuletide in our new home was marked by an alarming sequence of events.

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To wit:

I was outside hanging lights on our newly constructed domicile when I heard my wife scolding our kids — who were nine, seven, and five years old at the time — for breaking one of the electric candles she’d just bought to decorate our windows. Heavenly peace was restored, but only briefly: A loud crash, the sound of our children crying, and the wail of our smoke alarm brought me sprinting into the kitchen. A communal attempt to make gingerbread had gone terribly awry. Our daughter had sat on the end of the kitchen table, which is supported by a center pedestal, and upended it. A big china mixing bowl full of dough hit the floor; my wife cut her hand on the shards and bled profusely while a search for a tourniquet ensued. (Alas, our little dears had used all the bandages, so tissues were employed.) Meanwhile, a grease spatter ignited in our warming oven, producing great clouds of billowing smoke that filled our gracious home.

After that epic afternoon, no holiday season was complete without some misadventure or wreckage. There was the Christmas morning we awoke to a freezing house — our propane had run out, so we huddled by the fireplace until an emergency delivery arrived. Another year, we bought a live spruce tree to bedeck indoors, intending to plant it in our yard the following spring. The heavy root ball, however, had frozen — and the tree, to the peril of a generously helpful neighbor’s back, defied all attempts to carry it inside. I’ll never forget the sight of my kids gazing out the window, their little faces full of abject disappointment. Christmas was only a few days away, so we made a mad dash to Kingston in hopes that something better than a pathetic Charlie Brown tree was left in the parking lot where fine holiday foliage was sold.

Through the years, our Christmas trees have fallen like timber in a logging operation (sometimes with assistance from our cats), but last season’s flying fir set a record. So it was only fitting that our holidays concluded with the Great Eggnog Catastrophe. My wife and our 18-year-old son bumped into each other while bearing large mugs of the gloopy treat. The rug and many gifts, including clothing, where christened by a somewhat smaller recreation of the Exxon Valdez’s oily mishap in Alaska back in 1989.

So, you see, I’ve developed a philosophical attitude about the holidays: Praise the Lord, and pass the cleaning products.

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