Holiday Horror Stories

by Helene Seifer (December 2012)

The holiday season is upon us and with it come high expectations. People picture cherubic children around an exquisite Christmas tree or faces lit by the glow of the Chanukah menorah. But let’s be honest – it doesn’t always go so beautifully. Sometimes our best memories are of the holiday horror stories; the plans that went awry, but somehow brought us closer together.

My own terrible tale took place at my Chanukah Dinner Block Party. The potato pancakes and brisket were warming in the oven when we noticed thick smoke billowing from the kitchen. I called 911 and we rushed outside to await help…and realized our feast was about to be incinerated inside.

So we ran back through the smoke and rescued our dinner. Firefighters arrived, threw the oven into our backyard, and doused the smoldering cabinetry. We then filed back in, casserole dishes in hand, and enjoyed a meal worthy of a Chanukah miracle. My neighbor’s son declared it, “The best Chanukah ever!”

Other Ebell members willingly shared their own less-than-perfect holiday adventures. Jackie Castillo recalls a problematic Thanksgiving dinner. Her niece Stacey had recently married and the extended family didn’t know her new husband Raymond very well. “He wanted to do something for the family and make a good impression,” so he insisted on cooking the whole Turkey Day dinner himself.

With some trepidation, Jackie, her husband Jim, and her son Justin arrived for the scheduled feast. The smells emanating from the kitchen were wonderful! All seemed perfect…until it was time to remove the turkey from its cooking bag. No crispy golden bird in sight. Instead, it was turkey stew! After the initial shock, everyone “busted up laughing,” declared the meal was “done in love” and that’s what counted. They served the mush over a bed of mashed potatoes!

Last December newlywed Kongit Farrell-Sack brought her then-boyfriend Jeremy home to meet her extended family for the first time and participate in their unusual holiday tradition. Jeremy is of European Jewish ancestry and Kongit’s father is “Cajun and grew up with Christmas.” She explains further, “My mom is of Ethiopian heritage and Jewish faith. We celebrate Hanu-Chrisma-Kwanz.” Dr. Jeremy Sack, for all his accomplishments, was extremely nervous about this important visit. Normally “reserved and scholarly, he tried to be more gregarious, talking to everyone and cracking jokes” while partaking of Dorowot, an Ethiopian beef stew.

Everything went well until the very last good-bye. Leaving the house, Jeremy stepped into – let’s just say the dog had left an odiferous present on the stoop. Instead of a suave exit, Jeremy had to hop back into the house to hose down his shoes. It was a very human moment that “just made him even more lovable.”

Misako Ito moved to Los Angeles last year and was looking forward to a holiday visit from her daughters Ami and Miri, who still lived in her native Tokyo. Misako was determined to celebrate a traditional Japanese New Year’s Day – eating a feast, wearing Kimonos, and making “a pilgrimage to the Shinto Shrine” to get a “written oracle” which predicts one’s luck for the coming year.

Shopping for the ceremonial meal was easy – daikon radish, mirin, and cod were easily found. But then she hit some snags. Misako had Kimonos for them all, but she explained that “We need many secret devices to wear Kimono properly. We could not find those things in L.A.!” Improvisation was necessary, and improvise they did, tucking tea towels under their Obi sashes and using “very nice scarves from our Grandma’s closet” to tie their layers of undergarments around their waists.

The next problem they encountered was finding a shrine to visit for their fortunes. Again, they improvised. Misako, Ami and Miri walked to The Grove and bought lottery tickets!

The holidays can be a very stressful time. With so much to do, it’s easy to be thrown when something unexpected occurs. Our members’ stories of holidays gone wrong show that a sense of humor and a flexible outlook can make almost anything turn out okay…and become a memory to cherish and retell as the years go by.

Want more holiday horror stories? Check out member Laura Foti Cohen’s website

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