Christmas is, as Andy Williams has advised us while perched atop a high stool, "The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year".
But it's not if you're hallucinating in an Ecuadorian hospital, or if your dad set fire to a highly flammable festive wreath using a creme brûlée gun. Andy doesn't mention all this in the song, but we'll let him off, a) because it doesn't scan, and b) we're more than used to being given idealised depictions of Christmas that don't square up with reality.
Reality is usually pretty mundane. Every year you'll see a handful of characters in TV soaps wail about how they "wanted Christmas to be perfect", but Christmas always falls well short of perfect, not least because no one ever turns up and pays off your mortgage, then cooks you a Michelin star quality meal, then introduces you to a beautiful stranger who brings you to a shuddering climax. Instead, you sit and watch Deal Or No Deal and let off a series of heroic expulsions of wind.
But when it's not perfect, and it's not mundane, it can be dreadful. I posed a question on Twitter about best and worst Christmases, which prompted a glorious outpouring of British tragicomedy. There were stacks of terrible gifts: @scaraboo's godfather got her some anti-ageing cream. ("I was 18") while @ollybarratt recalled his disappointment on receiving a He-Man figurine stripped of its weapons and armour – "just a muscly man in pants". Illness was a predictably recurring theme, along with a broken spine (@pixiegigs) and an arm broken in the middle of cooking Xmas dinner (@sundayhandbag).
Additional dining disasters came from @liquidindian – who treated himself to a frozen chicken dinner from the corner shop only to discover that he was allergic to it – and @JamesWallis's dad, who served up a memorable breakfast of scrambled egg made with brandy butter.
Amid the hilarity were traumas that time takes a great deal longer to heal. @_gmh_ flew all the way to India to get dumped for Christmas, while @_blackie__'s tale is unspeakably raw: "My girlfriend dumped me during present handover, then asked me to leave so my replacement could come in." Fortunately, @mimivonpeach was on hand to remind us that Christmas can be sufficiently joyful to prompt all ye nations to rise. "Best was the year my brother got his first hearing aid," she said. "He was so excited, we put music on loud and danced around with our toys." Check out the full list at http://bit.ly/dreadful-xmas – and fingers crossed for something a little more Merry this year.
Tweets: My Worst Christmas
Dad choked on turkey during Xmas dinner; parents spent hrs at A&E, leaving me (12) and bro (8) sitting watching food get cold.
Homeless, sleeping in costume store of a theatre, Pot Noodle for Xmas lunch, particularly aggressive rodent my only company.
Girlfriend's (of six months) husband surprises her (and me, as I didn't know she was married) by arriving at the office party
2004, my sister was sick down the back of my neck and then my mum had bought tartar sauce instead of horseradish sauce.
Worst Xmas: Ex got so drunk on Xmas Eve he wet the bed; still drunk in the morning, he opened EVERYBODY's presents under the tree.
1997. Massive storms, power cut, toddler sister split open her lip, nearest hospital 45 min drive, spent Xmas Eve there.
Boxing Day: mid-1960s, my dad, very hungover, scrambled every egg in the house for breakfast. Used brandy butter. Inedible.
1997. Dumped by girlfriend, poor, home with parents & an incontinent cat that kept pulling out its catheter.
Best & Worst: The year I had a Roland Rat soft toy. Got so excited that I threw up over it and couldn't play with the vomity gift.
Managed to set my hair on fire with a candle at Xmas dinner table in 1975
1987. Got pushed onto the candles at church during the nativity and set on fire. The priest had to douse me with holy water
1997. Dog struck by car. Spent day and all money at vet. Best: 1997. Dad drunk, laying on floor to croon sweetly to said dog.
my friend took half an"E" found in his pocket &tried to recreate Nirvana's Nevermind album cover (naked, swimming baby) during charades.
1993: I got my Dad a stress ball and then bit it, burst it and glued my lips together with the goo inside. Family were disgusted.
2003: BF's father gets drunk and comments that my butt doesn't seem to wobble when I walk. Awkward silence.
1992. BF (at the time) got me a Ladyshave. Asked me to wait outside Argos while he bought it and handed it to me unwrapped.
1997, throwing up all night due to Mum's duff mince pies. Had just got to sleep at 8am when a car crashed into our wall.
Worst Xmas – mum died month before, so got very drunk. Found movie "Ratatouille" offensive & phoned President of France to complain.
1999: my girlfriend dumped me during present handover, then asked me to leave so my replacement could come in.
Alcoholic Gran taking "1 for me, 1 for the pud" approach to making Xmas pudding. It exploded when lit and my uncle lost his eyebrows
Aged 8, I leapt from the sofa, head-butted my grandad and knocked him unconscious. Was convinced I'd killed him despite reassurance.
Mum had my dog put down on Xmas Eve when I was 9. Only present left under the tree was his and no one moved it till the new year.
Circa 1987 I set my Grandpa alight by firing a party popper across the table through a candle. He attempted to douse with whisky.
Nan's new bf was called Tom Jones. We teased him until he smashed the turkey with his cane and walked out. It's not unusual.