On the night before Thanksgiving two years ago I woke up suddenly to the sound of vomiting. My three-year-old had come down with the stomach bug that had hit my other children earlier in the month. Unfortunately we were at my parents’ house for the holiday and I had not packed many extra clothes. I spent the rest of the night tending to her as best I could, quietly searching the crowded house for extra towels and blankets to keep the mess contained without waking up anyone else and spoiling their holiday too. By the time the sun came up, my poor daughter was only wearing a t-shirt and was lying on the floor swaddled in a large bath towel. I spent Thanksgiving morning catatonic on the couch watching Disney cartoons with my daughter while my mom cooked the entire meal herself. I didn’t even enjoy the feast that year because I was too tired and the smell of food was nauseating (thankfully I escaped the illness myself).

I thought of my pukey Thanksgiving this year when a friend posted on Facebook that she and her husband had to turn around shortly after beginning their drive to Grandma’s house when a similar stomach bug hit the family. They’ve spent the week at home while illness has worked its way through all their children and back again. Sometimes our best-laid plans for holiday fun are waylaid in the worst possible ways.

For those of us in the United States, Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season that lasts through the New Year, and I know that our readers in other countries will be beginning their holiday celebrations soon as well. This time of year is a great opportunity to spend with family and friends, enjoying special foods, music, games, and other festive traditions. But even during the most happy times, life can get in the way and sometimes illness, disagreements, bad weather, and other disasters spoil the fun.

I once spent New Year’s Eve in the emergency room with my six-year-old who had tried a ninja jump down the basement stairs and broken his foot. I’m forever grateful for my neighbor who hosted my other children for the holiday and packed me a bag of peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. Holiday disasters may not be much fun, but usually in hindsight we can find something to be grateful for. If nothing else, after a few years, time will soften the edges enough to laugh about the gap between what we expected and what we got. My kids will forever remember the Thanksgiving when their youngest sister threw up all night, and I’m just grateful that this year was much less exciting.

If you celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, how did it go? What have been some of your most memorable holiday disasters, and can you laugh about them now?


  1. eljee

    November 27, 2015

    We’ve had our share of holiday disasters. Three years ago my daughter broke her arm 2 days before Christmas. That meant a couple of sleepless nights leading up to the big day (especially making for a VERY long night for Santa, who was downstairs trying to put together a very large, complicated, and noisy Christmas gift for an older brother, and couldn’t do much until our little invalid finally went to sleep), and a little girl in pain on Christmas morning sobbing, “This is the worst Christmas ever!!!”

    The next year, all three children came down with fevers in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and pretty much slept through the entire holiday, barely waking up long enough to open a few gifts. They ended up missing what we didn’t know at the time was going to be their last Christmas with our extended family… six months later we unexpectedly moved across the country.

    But the worst disaster of all came four years ago. My husband likes to take the children out for the afternoon on Christmas Eve so that I can have some quiet time and finish the last minute preparations. But that year, he didn’t get them home in time for the relaxing evening I’d anticipated. They got home late and were grumpy. Dinner was late, and they were even more grumpy. By the time we started our Christmas Eve devotional (the magical highlight of the entire season for me), they were tired, whiny, and quarreling. The toddler started screaming, so my husband took him upstairs to bed. One child adamantly refused to sing any Christmas carols or otherwise participate. The other child couldn’t stop fighting with his sibling. It ended up with both of them screaming and me crying. After a few efforts to get us all into the proper spirit of the evening, I gave up and carried them all upstairs to bed. Christmas Eve was officially canceled. The next morning, I would not let any of them go downstairs to see what Santa brought until we had gone through the entire Christmas Eve devotional from Mom and Dad’s bed. They were mad about that, but I was determined that they weren’t going to think they got to skip out on what Christmas was really about. I can laugh about this experience now, but at the time I was devastated to think that our Christmas Eve had been ruined.

  2. Jessie

    November 27, 2015

    Oh man, that sounds like a rough Christmas Eve! I have a very hilarious picture of all 3 of my kids in matching Christmas pajamas sobbing under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. There had been a fight about reading our special Christmas book and they were all tired and mad. At the time I was super frustrated, but I’m glad I took a picture because it is now really funny.

  3. Marivene

    November 27, 2015

    The year our oldest child was three, we called my husband’s sister to come spend Christmas day with our child. I had laid on the couch while she opened her presents (because it was not my first go-round & I knew there was nothing that could be done). I refused to not be there while she opened her gifts. Then my husband took me to the ER, where I had my 3rd miscarriage. Thank goodness his sister was also attending BYU as a student & had not gone home for Christmas that year. While I was grateful to already have a child, that child was BEYOND furious with her Heavenly Father when she realized that she was NOT going to have a little brother or sister, & sulked all Christmas day after we came home, & for days beyond. Her prayers sounded more like angry outbursts directed at the heavens, & of course, I was not exactly emotionally on an even keel then, either. It remains the “terrible Christmas” against which all others in our home are ranked.

    • Teresa Bruce

      November 28, 2015

      I’m sorry about the miscarriage. A “terrible Christmas” indeed.

  4. Teresa Bruce

    November 28, 2015

    Jessie, thanks for this post. It brought back some not-funny-then memories.

    I’ve spent (at least) two New Year’s Days in hospital waiting rooms with kids too sick to wait for their doctors’ offices to reopen. I recall thinking, “At least we’re getting a head start on the year’s medical deductible…”

    We had a different kind of disaster one Easter. Although we always made sure our kids understood that the focus of Easter was on the Savior’s Atonement, the Easter Bunny also left a small basket beside each of our daughters’ places at the breakfast table that Sunday morning every year. The contents weren’t extravagant: a few candy-filled plastic eggs, some religious-oriented stickers, and maybe a hand-sized plush toy or a book. One year an argument broke out over something–the color distribution of the plastic eggs or the assortment of stickers, maybe. Tears and whining and declarations of “No fair!” must have repelled the Easter Bunny. Such baskets never graced our Easter table again.

  5. M2theH

    November 29, 2015

    My brothers appendix ruptured right before Thanksgiving one year, and my other brother had to make all the pies because my dad was at the hospital with him. His pies are not as good. We also burned all the turkey drippings and my aunt had to make gravy appear out of thin air.

    I had surgery to remove a tumor right before thanksgiving, and stupidly thought I could just lay on the couch during dinner and maybe eat some mashed potatoes and pie. I are nothing, spent the whole time wishing I had stayed home.

    Last Christmas we were renting a too small town house. The night before Christmas Eve the neighbors toilet overflowed and flooded our whole downstairs. We ended up moving Christmas up to my daughters room because the entire main floor had been ripped up. I decided to make a fake fireplace to help it be more festive, but was so rattled that I managed to slightly bump another car with mine in the Walmart parking lot. We finally fixed the $1600 in damage I did to the front end of my car.

    The flooded part and bedroom Christmas are funny now, but the added expense of huge stupid car damage still stings.

  6. Random

    November 30, 2015

    I’m not quite ready to find it entertaining — well, the whole of it — but some of it, yes, because it’s been long enough. I live on the West Coast and my dad, in Utah, had asked if we could all come to their home for Christmas, so it would be a whole family thing. We decided we could do that, so we started planning. Then my mother-in-law said, and I’m not kidding, “Can you just swing by our house on the way home?” They live in Phoenix. The drive from Salt Lake to Phoenix is not a straight shot and not an easy drive. But, hey, it’s Christmas. So, on the way, we went though Hoover Dam, where my husband had to show the fine folks that the stuff on top of the car was … food storage. Utah, remember? Meanwhile, our 8 year old is throwing up every mile, which means the 10 year old is riding shot gun while I’m cleaning up an 8 year old. Awesome. We get to Phoenix and are not having a good time, because all we want to do now is go home. At home, I find out later, the dog sitter threw the dog outside (she’s an inside dog) and left her there in barely above freezing weather. None of our neighbors knew how to find us to tell her to let the dog in and find someone else. It’s still not a subject I broach with my husband.

  7. Jennifer

    November 30, 2015

    I woke up one Christmas morning to find my 6 month-old’s eye was almost swollen shut. I had no idea what to do. At the ER, I was told that it was a contusion and to come back if it got worse. So I spent that whole Christmas day worrying about her eye and checking on it. The next morning her eye was completely shut so I took her back in and they immediately took her for a CT scan and found cellulitis and infections in pretty much every sinus cavity. The only sign of it was her swollen eyelid. So we spent the next 2 weeks in the hospital giving her intravenous antibiotics.

    Someone I told the story to asked if I was mad at the first doctor who misdiagnosed her. I was actually glad that we got to spend that Christmas day relatively normally with our family since the next couple of weeks were so miserable.

  8. JK

    December 5, 2015

    I think the worst Christmas of my childhood was the year my mother was in the hospital because she had to have back surgery. I was old enough to know there was no Santa, and yet I tried to maintain the illusion for my younger siblings. Then, my two older sisters spent the whole holiday trying to one-up each other on being the “boss” since mama was not there. Daddy was just worried about mother, whose hospital was 100 miles away, and he couldn’t just leave the farm and stay there. Fortunately, my aunt lived in that city, so she spent time with her sister and called my dad to reassure him. It was the first time I realized how she was the heart of our family. Everything that made Christmas so fabulous was her doing. It was a good time of life to learn that important detail.

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