“I thought she really wanted to know what I thought of her tiramisu…”

A cozy gathering with happy faces and peace on earth? In movies, reality is often much more embarrassing. And more fun.

Joan Makenbach

Peace on earth? Not really!

Anouk (37): “It was clear: My two brothers-in-law, a couple, had a big fight. I saw it immediately on their angry faces when they came to celebrate Christmas with us last year. Demonstratively, they sat as far apart as possible and had no intention of getting over the argument.

I had done my best: the Christmas tree was beautifully decorated, candles were burning everywhere, the fireplace was crackling, Christmas music was playing and the table was full of snacks. But the gentlemen remained angry. They behaved normally towards us, passive-aggressive towards each other. The room was filled with tremendous excitement. After two hours I called my husband into the kitchen with an apology. I really couldn’t take the nasty vibe anymore. My husband then called his brother and husband to order: either they behaved normally or they were allowed to go again.

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Fair or not?

Elena (35): “Christmas 2009, my baptism of fire with the family of my (now) husband Frank. We had gourmet and were all ready for dessert: tiramisu. Apparently something my mother-in-law made every year and everyone praised her for. After I took a bite, the whole the family looked at me expectantly. And? I didn’t quite understand what they wanted from me, I’d only known them for a few months. But this concoction was no tiramisu. I thought I could say that after all the Dutch are known for their directness. If anyone knows what it should taste like, it’s me. After all, I’m Italian born and raised.

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At home we make tiramisu with fresh egg yolks, mascarpone, marsala and biscotti savoiardi. Not with Bastogne biscuits, cream cheese from a packet and a few drops of almond flavour. My comment was completely wrong. With a jerk, my mother-in-law pulled my plate from the table and set it down in front of her with a bang. Luckily it worked, but she never gave me her tiramisu again. At Christmas I am the only one who gets some bonbons for dessert.”

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Christmas with a hangover

Sandra (45): “Until then, Boxing Day 2020 had gone smoothly. After the nine-course Christmas dinner for three adults and two children, I washed everything and cleaned up the kitchen. The last act was to put away my silverware, which I keep at the top of the cabinet for special occasions. The three-drawer case was very heavy, more than thirty kilos. I climbed up on a chair to get to the top shelf, I couldn’t remember which chair it was. And because the case obscured my view, I couldn’t see it either. Stupid in hindsight, because I should have known there were wheels underneath.

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It seemed to go in slow motion: the moment I started riding to the realization that I really wanted to fall. Then it happened with a huge bang. With cassette and all, I flew over the back of the chair. The box was broken, but so was I. My body still worked, but unfortunately my shoulder was broken. I had to go to the emergency room immediately. But because I was afraid that my beautiful dress would be cut into pieces, I quickly changed with the help of my husband and mother-in-law. At the hospital I got a sling. It would otherwise heal conservatively with a lot of rest, without surgery. I couldn’t move for weeks afterwards and slept upright in bed, heavily under pain medication. Fortunately, it turned out okay. In fact, I still laugh when I think of the nurse’s look when I see my ‘party clothes’: an oil-stained cardigan, only a bra underneath, baggy sweatpants, thick woolen socks and blue flip flops…”

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All for free?

Bregje (32): “As a post and package delivery person, December is my busiest month. Just before Christmas we want everyone to get their cards and gifts on time, so it’s a lot of work. We work long days and I am usually exhausted after such a work day.

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Partly because of this, I wasn’t in the supermarket until five o’clock last Christmas Eve for my festive shopping. It seemed as if everything had been free that day. All shelves empty. There really wasn’t a piece of chicken left, nor anything else that I could feast on as a single. I wanted to celebrate Boxing Day with my sister, but the other evenings I sat and ate alone. Fortunately, pizzas were still delivered.”

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Plastic sheets

Paula (41): “When I was new to my friend Paul’s family four years ago, I was lucky. I was invited to his sister’s for Christmas, but I had to bring something nice. So something culinary. Apparently everyone always made some for a cold and hot buffet. I myself am more into soup-in-a-bag and ready-made pancakes, but I didn’t dare touch that.

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At the local catering company, I ordered stuffed tomatoes with seafood and homemade roulade with cranberry pâté. Looked very smooth. I scooped it all neatly into golden bowls and bluffed my way into the family. Unfortunately, I forgot to remove one thing: the plastic inserts that the butcher had neatly placed between the slices of roulade.

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Stuffed soup

Eugene (32): “It was my turn for the traditional seven-course dinner in the circle of friends, but I am far from a culinary miracle. I have a few classics that always do well when I get people to eat, like my famous lentil soup. If I combined that with an easy cheese board (from the cheesemonger), grand dessert (with ice cream from the supermarket) and a shrimp cocktail, I thought I’d go far.

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I spent the whole day in the kitchen and was very proud of my very first top dinner. We started with the soup, in which I added fried bacon for the festivities. But it was so nourishing and filling that all six of us were full. I was hoping the spoom with prosecco and lemon ice would let things down a bit. Only by course three was nobody hungry and we moved on to coffee. We ended up having Christmas dinner for three more days.”

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Double wrong

Alice (45): “Before Christmas, we draw lots with the whole family and then buy a gift of around €25. We do that on my youngest daughter’s birthday in November, when we are all together anyway. Usually I write the names down and then walk around with a salad bowl with all the folded papers in it. Now, to my great horror, it has already happened twice that I have skipped over my brother-in-law.

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The first time I accidentally wrote down my mother’s name twice, last year my son got an extra gift. So both times my brother-in-law got nothing. So I quickly gave him a book I had lying around, but I’m afraid he thinks I hate him. Once is bad enough, but if it happens to you twice and with the same person too, then you have to ‘do it on purpose’.”

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Embarrassing Christmas Stories: Touch of Red

Ellen (45): “The invitation to my work’s big Christmas party said ‘a touch of gold’ as the dress code. Now I still had a smart white ‘men’s set’ where I could wear a gold top and gold pumps. Once at the party, there were stalls everywhere where you could eat and drink.

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I started with a glass of mulled wine, but just as I was about to take a sip, a colleague nudged me. The wine spilled over my suit, right into my crotch. I saw everyone looking at me, but when I tried to brush the stain off the toilet, I only made it worse. In short: within an hour I was back home. I put on my pajamas and never got off the sofa.”

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Jumping turkey

Millanie (49): “Traditionally, my mother has cooked turkey in the oven for Christmas. To keep it nice and tender, she occasionally basted the turkey with cooking juices. Open the door, pull the slide with the poultry slightly forward and then drizzle with the sauce. It was also when we, her three daughters, had dinner with her. She just pulled the drawer out a little too far and sent the turkey out of the oven and circling around the kitchen floor.

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We screamed with laughter but also caught him and put him back in the oven. Later we ate it deliciously. A few years later my mother died. We still tell the story of the jumping turkey every year. It also became my motivation to keep the tradition alive. Now I make a turkey every Christmas and I think of her.”

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Stew pears with a tic

Naomi (37): “We had dinner with my parents on Christmas Eve with the whole family plus supporters. My mother had gone out of her way for a festive and child-friendly menu. With Brussels sprouts and stuffed pork tenderloin, as well as applesauce, stewed pears, round potatoes and fish fingers. The children were super happy. Maybe a little too much because they seemed to get happier every minute during and after dinner.

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When they were also dizzy, my sister-in-law asked my mother what was in the stewed pears. She put her hands over her eyes and cried, “Oh no!” She had forgotten that not all alcohol evaporates during cooking, and that it was not smart to add a good shot of port to the pears just before serving. The (children) the children slept like babies that night. That again.”

Illustration: Shutterstock

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