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Gift swaps and naked charades: The best stories from Carolyn Hax’s Holiday Hoot

Don’t we just love the season?

(Nick Galifianakis)
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Every year, advice columnist Carolyn Hax hosts a holiday-themed version of her weekly live chat where readers submit some of the best -- and worst -- stories about the holidays. Called the Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors, the chat first started in 2000 and has been going ever since.

Here are some of our favorite stories from this year:

Baking Nightmares

Thanks to Facebook memories, I’m reminded of an exciting start to the holiday season from three years ago. It was the start of the annual Great Cookie Baking Extravaganza, which consisted of multiple batches of yummy treats that were sent out to all our friends and family, and finished up with a made-from-scratch gingerbread house. To handle the volume of expected treats, I had bought a fresh, and very large, container of cinnamon. On the very first batch, I mishandled the container, and in a disastrous move knocked it off the counter. In an even more disastrous move, I tried to catch it before it hit the floor. But alas, in my dive to save it, I succeeded only in hitting it at juuuuuust the right angle to send it flying—end over end—across the kitchen. But in the most disastrous move of all, it sailed at the perfect arc to clip the overhead ceiling fan, which of course was on. The net result was that in less than a second, the entire kitchen was suffused in a choking, near-impenetrable fog of cinnamon. It was everywhere, and my wife and I spent the entire evening vacuuming up the mess. I will note that three years later, our Dyson Cordless still smells like cinnamon every time we use it … we’ve been known to run it as a quickie air freshener every now and again. I called my mom to vent, and she immediately trumped me with a horror story of her own. Days before, she was set to welcome out of town company … some old friends were back in town for the weekend, and were planning to stop by for coffee and dessert. My mom set out to make almond vanilla bean pound cake with a bright, festive raspberry sauce. Sadly, she was running late, and was making the raspberry sauce at the last possible moment. In her haste to finish up, she didn’t fully seal the top on the blender, and when she started it up … KAPLOWIE! By the time she finally got the machine off, bright, festive raspberry sauce was everywhere — the countertops, the cupboards, the ceiling, the white dog … everywhere. It looked like a massacre. Worse, at that moment the doorbell rang, and she was forced to greet these longtime friends looking like she was (and I quote) “right out of the movie ‘Carrie.’ ”

Carolyn Hax: Finally, some family harmony.

You’re doing it wrong

My favorite holiday memory is when me, my mom, my grandmother and my great grandmother were all in the kitchen together getting dinner ready. My great-grandmother told her daughter, “You’re not doing it right, here let me show you.” My grandmother turned to her daughter moments later and said, “You’re not doing it right, here let me show you.” My mother had spent all day telling me, “You’re not doing it right, here let me show you.” Each time the criticism was met with a fresh round of “I know what I’m doing, just back off and leave me alone!” It’s the circle of criticism and it moves us all. One day I hope to have someone to tell, “You’re not doing it right, here let me show you” and get a “shove it” in response.

Carolyn Hax: At which point the matriarchy will tell you you’re not raising her right, and you will, kindly, write to us to share that.

Gimme a gun, Santa

Before Thanksgiving dinner for our family of ~20, Uncle Mike put “Shark Tales” on the tube to entertain the kids. Once dinner was ready, Uncle Bill turned off the TV and asked everyone to gather around the table for dinner. After being seated, a few of the kids were still upset about the TV being turned off, so as a distraction tactic, Aunt Sandy started asking around the table, “What do you want Santa to bring you?” When she got to 3-year-old “Tank” (so known for his size), he responded, “I hope Santa brings me a gun so I can shoot Uncle Bill.”

If you can’t have a sense of humor about chutney...

My MIL has a habit of trying new recipes for the very first time at major holidays/family events. One Thanksgiving, my SIL and I were both pregnant (cousins born five days apart — yay!) and both VERY sensitive to new/different/well-known-but-we-now-hate-them smells. With no prior experience, of any sort, with cooking outside her ethnicity, MIL attempts an Indian-spiced cranberry chutney. She clearly misread some instructions and poured vinegar into massive amounts of spices at very high heat, which instantly vaporized, creating a chili/turmeric/cardamom/garlic mustard gas situation in her open-plan home which sent my SIL and me to refuge in the garage in 30-degree weather for over an hour while the house cleared. MIL huffily said our gagging and eye watering was “dramatic” and complained about the heat loss from open windows, but everyone survived. The following year I happened across Cranberry Chutney scented candles and bought her a few for her Christmas stocking as a let’s-laugh-about-a-crazy-moment offering. No. Not amused. Not even a little. Threw them away in front of me. “Cranberry chutney” is now a password amongst the siblings for not messing with MIL’s holiday/family plans. As in “Oh, yeah, she’s going to cranberry chutney that” or “This is cranberry chutney important to her.”

Carolyn Hax: Yes. Amused.

All was in readiness for the holiday dinner...

When I graduated college, I was unable to find a place to live that would allow dogs. So, I temporarily moved in with my parents along with Peanut, a Beagle mix I’d rescued. They were well aware of her spunk and personality, but perhaps not as much as they thought. To their defense, the only “bad” thing she ever did was if left alone with a newspaper, might tear it apart into little pieces, which when found we’d laugh and say, “Looks like Peanut was reading the paper.” Mom and Dad had completed all the preparations for a large family holiday dinner, table set with fine china and silver, side dishes in the fridge, bakery spread out across the counters in covered dishes. The turkey came out of the oven, and they put it on the counter next to the sink to cool. With all in readiness, they had time to bring a tray of cookies over to a neighbor’s house. Peanut was a little dog, thus the name, maybe 20 pounds, about a foot tall. My folks knew how athletic she was, how she’d launch herself across the room and into my arms whenever I came home, but the thought of this sweet dog getting into real trouble (well, it had never happened before). Mom came back from the neighbor’s and walked into the kitchen to find one side of the turkey cleaned to the bone. What to do? Of course, as the child of a Depression mother, Mom carefully washed the turkey, and carved around the dog eaten area. “I saved the turkey” my Mom proudly stated when she later told me this. Dinner saved, my parents began to carry dishes into the dining room. There, on the dining room table where they’d placed the newspaper so Peanut wouldn’t “read it” was a dog poop! Apparently, so stuffed from the turkey (pun intended), Peanut needed to eliminate, and having been paper-trained as a puppy, the only newspaper in the house was on the dining room table where she’d jumped up to do her business (good dog, lol).

Banned from playing a holiday game

Several years ago I went to a friend’s annual holiday party, during which there is a game played that has various names, “Dirty Santa” or “Yankee Gift Swap.” It’s the one where you get a number, pick a gift and then someone with a higher number can “steal” your gift. There are rules about how many times a gift can be stolen before it’s “locked” and becomes the property of the person who ends up with it. Anyway, I got what was considered a good number and once the game started going, I had my eye on a wine and cheese board. I have no idea why I got so attached to this thing, but it worked out such that I was able to steal it and it was locked. It was mine! But then someone took it, sheepishly saying his wife really wanted it. Apparently, halfway through the game there had been a clarification around rules and how many times a gift can be stolen. I lost it. Hadn’t heard the rule change and also yelled that rules can’t change halfway through a game anyway. (Did I mention I was few glasses of wine in at this point?) I started yelling at the guy, started yelling at the person MC-ing the game. I yelled, “This is BS!!” and stormed away. Ten minutes later I was super embarrassed by my behavior, apologized to the people I yelled at and the host (who thought it was hilarious, thank goodness), and slinked out of the party. This game takes place every year and I’ve voluntarily banned myself from it ever since. Not giving up the wine, though! Just keep me away from that game.

Anonymous: The person yelling, “This is BS!” reminds me of a similar family Yankee Gift Swap we did one year. My mom knew I wanted a crock pot and she got one for the swap, which I opened. Turns out my cousin wanted one, too! She stole it from me, and then when someone stole my replacement, I stole the crock pot back again from my cousin, which locked it, and now that cousin doesn’t speak to me anymore. Also crock pot meals are kind of [crappy] so I regret it, BUT NOT ENOUGH TO GIVE IT TO HER ALL THESE YEARS LATER.

And finally... Naked Susan revealed

In last year’s chat, one reader sent in a story about Aunt Susan playing a game of charades. Regular chatters have always wanted to know what the actual clue was. And we finally heard back:

“I’m sorry the answer is so anticlimactic. It really was just “naked.” Which is why she had so much confidence that she had the perfect plan and we would get it immediately. I was telling my aunt (Susan’s cousin) that I posted this to the Hoot and she wanted to know if I had properly told everyone how prudish her in-laws were. I’m not sure I did, so for the record, my grandparents were very much Not On Board with Public Nudity, but were lovely people who wouldn’t hold a grudge. Susan never did see what the fuss was all about.”

Carolyn Hax: Nothing can tarnish the legend of Susan. Thank you, from all of us.