The Nightmare Before Christmas: Homeowner Tales of Holidays Gone Horribly Wrong

It’s the holiday season — something’s bound to go wrong.

We’ve all heard about those nightmarish holiday disaster stories in which accident after accident befalls some poor soul who just wanted a quiet, peaceful Christmas with the family. And we know you can’t get enough of those stories, so we’re here to bring you more!

We asked around to get some of the most ridiculous holiday horror stories from homeowners who just couldn’t catch a break, and we rounded up seven of our favorites.

Have a crazy holiday story? Share it with us in the comments below.

Unwanted holiday guests — in the Christmas tree

“My family and I travel out to the countryside of Virginia each year to cut down our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. We enjoy donning our Santa hats to find the ‘perfect’ tree and the experience of the afternoon outdoors.

However, a few years ago, we brought home a bit more of nature than we intended: spiders! Apparently, there were egg sacs in our ‘perfect tree,’ and because they are so sticky, they clung to the tree branches even when the tree farm ran the tree through the agitating machine and tied it up.

Unfortunately, after a few days in the warmth of our home, we had spiderlings everywhere! I don’t know what kind they were, but they were tiny and I kept finding them and their webs for weeks after the tree went up. It was almost a sad, annoying game. Each night, I would find new webs and new spiders, and I would vacuum them up.

With my diligent efforts — and because the spiders that came for a bit of Christmas with us weren’t house spiders and accordingly didn’t find what they needed in our house to sustain themselves — the problem went away after a few weeks. Lesson learned, though: Now we check each tree thoroughly before bringing it home! If we ever find an egg sac in the future, it won’t change our love of the perfect tree. We will just be sure to remove the spider eggs before bringing it home!”

— Missy Henriksen, Falls Church, VA

Don’t let this happen to you: Spiders, aphids, bark beetles, and even praying mantids can live in pine and fir trees — commonly used as Christmas trees. Their eggs live in the branches during colder months. But once they come into your home, the warmer environment causes them to hatch.

The National Pest Management Association offered these tips for keeping pests from coming into your home as you set up for the holidays:

  • Inspect live, fresh-cut evergreen trees, wreathes, and garlands for spiders, insect nests, or eggs before purchasing. Shake greenery vigorously outdoors to remove any pests before bringing them inside.
  • Store firewood at least 20 feet from the home on a raised structure, such as concrete blocks or poles.
  • Unpack decorations outdoors so pests aren’t released into the home.
  • Store freshly baked holiday treats and opened ingredients in airtight containers.
  • Add a bay leaf to canisters and packages of dry goods like flour and rice — the pungent scent repels many pantry pests.
  • Repack decorations in durable, sealed containers that pests can’t chew through.

According to a Penn State study, you should never use aerosol pest-control sprays on Christmas trees because they are flammable.

A wet ‘n’ wild Christmas

“Just before Christmas dinner last year, when all the decorations were making the house so festive, we heard a howling scream from my 4-year-old niece, who had her fingers slammed in the door.

While assessing whether she needed to go to emergency — and she did, four hours in hospital emergency, missing Christmas dinner — I caught some appetizers on fire, and while carrying the tray to the sink, I badly burnt my fingers.

My brother-in-law and I managed to cook dinner while our wives were at the hospital, and it wasn’t until after dinner, while we were sitting around the tree drinking wine, congratulating ourselves on successfully ‘doing Christmas,’ that we realized that my 5-year-old son had plugged a shower drain with an ornamental Christmas plate and had made good progress on successfully flooding the basement.

A large part of the evening after the kids went to bed was spent drying out the basement ceiling with a hair dryer — some watermarks remain that we haven’t fixed yet — and some soggy carpet required a high-powered vacuum to absorb the water.”

— John Lyotier, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Don’t let this happen to you: Well, what can we say? Make sure all ornamental Christmas plates — and children — are accounted for.

More than holiday decorations on display

“About 5 years ago, I was hanging lights on our house. I came to a section where there is a pitch in the roof, and the ladder did not quite make it, so I climbed into the tree in front of the window where the pitch was located.

I got up fine, hung the lights, but as I began to make my way down the tree, the branch broke. I fell through the branches and landed on my bum. I stood up to see my neighbors across the street looking at me like I was crazy.

That’s when I realized it felt very breezy. The limbs of the tree had actually ripped my shirt off. Unfortunately, I was not wearing a bra at the time. To this day, I will not decorate without making sure I have all my undergarments on, and I no longer climb in trees!”

— Tamara Krause, Jacksonville, FL

Don’t let this happen to you: Chances are you’re using a ladder — and not a tree — to hang your outdoor holiday decorations, but ladders can be just as dangerous. The pros at Ulta-Lit Technologies, a company that makes holiday safety kits, made these suggestions:

  • Always use a ladder with two people present — one person to climb the ladder and one person to spot the other in case anything goes wrong.
  • Make sure all extension cords are out of the way so nothing gets tangled or wrapped around the legs of the ladder.

And the experts at said:

  • Inspect the ladder before use to make sure there are no loose rungs or screws.
  • Make sure you’re setting the ladder up on solid ground, and position it so that the bottom of the ladder is about a foot away from the wall for every 3 feet the ladder rises.

And we have one last tip of our own: Make sure you’re wearing undergarments while stringing lights on the house, just to be safe.

A modest Christmas dinner

“A few years ago, we hosted Christmas dinner at our new home, which was a total fixer-upper. But we were proud of our new house and wanted to have everyone over.

Not many things in the house worked, but the oven did — or so we thought. We had lived there for a few months and didn’t have any problems with it, until it was time to cook Christmas dinner. Keep in mind, we were having 10 people over for dinner.

Proud of myself for already prepping all the food, all I had to do was set the table and pop it all in the oven. Easy peasy! I turned the oven on, and nada! It didn’t work!

Needless to say, I cooked the entire meal in a toaster oven. Some things were lukewarm by the time everything was ready, but I think the meal turned out well despite being oven-less.”

— Danielle Elderkin, Bradford Woods, PA

Don’t let this happen to you: Malfunctioning appliances aside, the kitchen is one of the most dangerous places in your home during the holidays. With all the cooking and commotion going on, anything can go wrong with overused ovens, microwaves, and other appliances — not to mention fires. More than 40% of all house fires begin in the kitchen, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

If you do find yourself heating up smaller appliances, always make sure to unplug them after use, suggested the experts at insurance company Travelers. Other kitchen tips from Travelers include:

  • Keep all kitchen towels, oven mitts, pot holders, and other combustibles away from heat sources before turning on your oven, toaster, or microwave.
  • Monitor cooking food closely, as many fires have started from overcooking food in the oven.
  • Grilling? Yes, people do still grill at Christmastime. But never use charcoal grills in enclosed spaces like porches or garages, where it might be warmer than it is outside. That’s a fire waiting to happen.

Dude, where’s my Christmas gift?

“This is, sadly, a cautionary tale about trusting your neighbors. My sister and her family had just moved into a new house in South Carolina and had my parents over for Christmas a couple years ago. To save money, I sent all my family gifts to her, since they were all together for the holidays. I carefully wrapped all the gifts for my sister and brother-in-law, my father and also my nephew. I handmade little gift tags out of puffy sticker material — literally hours of work spent on the wrapping of these gifts.

I took the large package of gifts to UPS and sent it along. However, I mixed up ‘Drive’ with ‘Street’ on the address, which sent the package into a tailspin. This small mistake caused UPS to just send the package to my sister’s last known address, her old house, which was about 20 minutes from her new one. Upon realizing they hadn’t received the package, we tracked the box and found out it went to their old home and that it had been signed for the night before. My sister and father went over to the house to retrieve the package.

They knocked on the door and saw people inside, but had to wait a long while before a child answered the door. They explained the situation to the kid, who then got his mother who came to the door and asked my sister and father to wait while she got the package. She comes back about 15 minutes later with a box of the items, all unwrapped. They had apparently opened all the gifts and stowed them away, and then had to get them back out to give them to my family. All those hours wrapping for nothing!”

— Erinn Deshinsky, Charleston, SC

Don’t let this happen to you: Double- and triple-check your addresses. That’s all.

Don’t let the kids decorate the house

“Both of our boys took some money and over-decorated our beautiful Victorian house in downtown Portsmouth, N.H. The house is only 22 feet wide, and I think they covered the front with at least 10 strands of lights, plus an assortment of stand-up decorations.

There were these ridiculous 3-foot-tall candy canes haphazardly placed in the front yard; at least 2 deer in the garden; hanging along the porch roof were the icicle lights, which were still fairly new, but they weren’t hung nicely — they dipped and bunched as if the person putting them up was drunk; more lights scattered along the railings going down to the sidewalk, with probably two entirely different styles.

I was totally embarrassed by the mess. We were new in the area, had bought this beautiful old Victorian, and instead of honoring the splendor of the house and it’s architecture, it was now decorated like a tacky row house. We didn’t know our neighbors well yet, and I had no idea if I should try to explain how the house got decorated.”

Tina Gleisner
Portsmouth, NH

Don’t let this happen to you: Aside from the fact that this sounds horrifying, all these decorations could pose a big hazard. Even the best of us get a little, er, enthusiastic with Christmas decorations, but keep these tips from the experts at Underwriters Laboratories in mind as you string those lights:

  • Too many holiday decorations and lights could overload outlets, extension cords or power strips. Always pay attention to the acceptable wattage.
  • Remember to remove the plug by reaching up and pulling it out of the socket rather than yanking on the cord. Cords should also not be placed underneath anything that is heavy, nor should they be tacked to a wall to get them out of the way.
  • Inspect all your electric lights and decorations for damage or wear. Cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, and loose connections may pose a fire or shock hazard.

Too much ice

“I’m a sucker for outdoor candles — so pretty and sparkly! But those sand-weighted paper-bag luminaries scare me. So a few years ago, when I saw directions for making ice lanterns, I had to try it out.

What a mess. In freezing weather, outdoors, you’re supposed to fill clean plastic milk jugs with water, and then set in weighted cans. Of course, the outdoor faucets are turned off, so this involves slopping water in and out the back door. Once these things are frozen solid, somehow you are supposed to unwedge the cans resulting in a space for a candle, surrounded by thick walls of ice.

How are you supposed to get a frozen can out of a block of ice, wearing mittens? In the cold? You can’t heat it up. I tried pulling, wiggling, and smacking and what I ended up with was an ice field.

Lesson learned: water + cold = ice. In this case, fire and ice don’t mix.”

Joanne Cleaver, Lake Tahoe, CA

Don’t let this happen to you: We think Joanne has said it all: Just don’t do it.

Visit for more articles like this. Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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