24 Christmas disasters to make you feel better about burning the turkey, from poisoned guests to 7,000 acres of fire damage

Rough Christmas? Fear not, we have two dozen tales of how it could certainly get worse. Thank Kit Hesketh-Harvey.

It isn’t only feet through attic floors, burst pipes, burglaries. It isn’t merely cancelled trains, Bluewater sales bringing the entire M25 to gridlock or your four-year-old asking what Buttons meant by that joke. Christmas – the culmination of pumped anticipation, with a minute-by-minute schedule, an overwrought cast and massive culinary demands – is high-risk. Sometimes, even the angels crash and burn. I’ve asked around and these are some of the recollections that have unquestionably brought joy to my world. Good Christian men, rejoice, for at least this never happened to you…

My childhood dog was 14 and blind. It was as we were all standing in the hall, front door open, dutifully listening to the carol singing, that he peed on the tree and fused the main circuit board. The tree started smoking. The dog tottered off, blissfully unaware of the engulfing darkness that couldn’t be fixed until an electrician came on December 27.

I left that little plastic bag of giblets in my turkey, while I roasted it. For hours. Hours.

We had finished dinner and were trying to balance spoons on our noses. Grandpa called us over to take a photo. It was only then that I noticed the reflection of flames in the window behind him. He’d backed into the candles and his shirt had ignited. I screamed ‘GRANDPA’S ON FIRE!’ My grandmother managed to put it out just in time, but not without leaving a huge hole in the back of his suit. 

Two years ago, the Christmas tree snapped in half when we were watching The Queen. It fell on my head, the Perspex angel broke and I had to have nine stitches.

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Girl holding baking tray with burnt gingerbread cookies

We came home from Midnight Mass to discover our dog had sniffed out the stockings and eaten more than 1½lbs of chocolate. We made him vomit, then my husband and I took turns staying up with him throughout Holy Night, in order to let him out every few minutes. I was seven months pregnant at the time.

On Boxing Day, my six-year-old son was trying to crack a walnut and put the nutcrackers between his legs in order to gain leverage. Now I know – and the local A&E department knows – why they’re called nutcrackers.

Falling asleep on the Tube? Happens all the time. I remember the student who boarded a train at Victoria and awoke on Christmas morning, locked in with all the lights off and parked in a siding at a depot somewhere outside a freezing Southampton. Her phone was dead.

I wanted to cook the chestnuts fresh one year, instead of buying them frozen. Fair enough, but the cooking instructions failed to mention that, after 15 minutes, they explode.

I was stabbed in the eye with a plastic mast when attempting to assemble my impatient son’s pirate ship at 5.30am on Christmas morning, hoping thereby to allow his mother some sleep. I’d had far too little myself and was nursing a throbbing hangover. I missed permanent blindness by less than 2mm.

Consider the size of your oven when you purchase a turkey. It needs to be large enough to feed guests, but not so big you can’t cook it thoroughly. A few years back, 12 of my 14 guests had severe food poisoning. The two who didn’t get sick were vegetarians. The following year, I received three meat thermometers as Christmas presents.

Christmas lights plugged in at night and going on fire

Do not water your Christmas tree with the lights turned on.

Ironically, my three-year-old girl was the heroic one. Every time the plane plunged 1,000ft in the turbulence, she squealed with joy. ‘Again!’ she said. Other passengers burst into laughter. Finally, we landed safely.

Having prevaricated until the last hour, my mother-in-law announced she would be joining us. We hadn’t a stocking for her and there weren’t many places, by then, to look. We ended up at a Texaco petrol station, where we found the last copy of Cosmopolitan and a Santa that said ‘Ho, ho, ho’ when you threw him against a wall. She was bewildered less by these than the hi-viz jacket, in-car cigarette-lighter phone charger (she has no mobile phone) and beanie woollen hat with LED light sewn into it.

I work in the NHS and these are the facts. Some 100 people a year are hospitalised after attempting to move a Christmas tree when naked. Ten require Christmas toys to be surgically removed from their feet and two are killed trying to water a Christmas tree with fairy lights on it. (We don’t have figures for casualties who have falling off roofs when putting up illuminated reindeer.)

The missing hamster was found, hiding in the bauble-box in the attic. It had been living off tinsel for 48 weeks.

In Australia, it’s the other way round, climatically speaking. It had been a particularly dry summer as we sat down to an outdoor table in Warrandyte. Flourishing my paper napkin, it brushed the festive candles. A distant relative who was visiting from the UK and couldn’t walk without a stick sprinted into the koi pond, as other relatives poured whatever they could grab in order to put out the fire.

Unfortunately, what they grabbed was brandy. That Christmas lunch resulted in 7,000 acres of damage.

conifer Christmas tree consumed in flames

Candles in Australia are a bad idea, and certainly not to be put out with brandy.

One Christmas, my uncle and his husband brought their two Great Danes, which confused our cat with the pigs-in-blanket hors d’oeuvres. Of the 20 witnesses, half required counselling.

I’ll never forget the year my mum had lovingly slaved away preparing a banquet Christmas lunch. The dining table was laden with food and my dad, with great ceremony, popped open a bottle of bubbly; the cork flew up to the ceiling and, with pinpoint accuracy, shattered the lightbulb directly above the dining table. We ordered a takeaway curry, cooked by – praise Allah! – Muslims.

I managed to catch my finger in a stick blender while making the bread sauce. Hello orthopaedic microsurgery and a kitchen decorated by Quentin Tarantino.

My little brother was a bit of a tearaway at school and we turned up at his Nativity play to find that he had been cast as ‘straw’. He was dressed in yellow and just had to lie there.

My boyfriend of less than four months joined my family for Christmas and my last gift from him was an engagement ring. When he asked me to marry him, I was too dumbfounded to think anything other than ‘it’s too early’. As I was gathering my wits, my mother answered: ‘Yes, she will!

I brought a homemade sweet-orange cream liqueur and poured the cooled liquid into a beautiful vintage glass bottle, which I decorated with a festive ribbon and some jingle bells. Unfortunately, I had filled it to the brim before sealing it and storing it in the fridge. Come Christmas Eve supper, my bottle joined several others on the kitchen table. As the meal was in full swing, an earth-shattering explosion stopped everyone in their tracks. As the alcohol warmed to room temperature, it expanded and shattered the bottle. The jingle bells had shot to the far side of the room and there was sticky orange liqueur covering every surface: worktops, hanging colanders, ceiling, light fixtures, vertical blinds, floor, shelves of recipe books. It was everywhere and mixed in with the syrup were thousands of shards of glass. I spent all that Christmas – and, indeed, Boxing Day – cleaning up the mess.

In December 2004, a naked man broke into my house and the officer responding had a police dog with him. The dog sank its teeth into the man’s genitals and that man won a million-dollar settlement afterwards.

Ruined gingerbread house behind a police tape

We were so proud. The turkey was stuffed and ready for the brand-new designer oven. I asked my husband to turn it on. We went tobogganing, secure in the knowledge the turkey would be ready upon our return. The house was fragrant with roasting turkey when we arrived back. I prepared the roast potatoes and vegetables and settled down for a drink. One of the children wandered into the kitchen and casually pointed out the oven had its automatic lock on. It had been set to self-clean and there was no way to stop it. We watched the turkey turn into coal. We ate potatoes, sprouts, chestnuts and fried eggs.

We inherited a Regency sidetable, on which we placed the buffet for the grand family gathering, and were thrilled to discover that the drop-leaf at either end made it bigger. We set it out beautifully for the party: the porcelain had been a coming-of-age gift to my great-grandfather and the wine glasses were 18th century, painstakingly handwashed before careful storage for the rest of the year. As we came in from church, we heard the crash. Both ends of the table had given way. That Christmas was a disaster for everyone – except the dog.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey will be playing the role of the Bad Fairy Carabosse in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, Surrey, until January 5, 2020. www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk

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