It has been somewhat of a running joke amongst my partner’s family, who I have been spending Christmas with for the past few years: who is going to “ruin” Christmas this time?

Christmas has never actually been “ruined.” More, it just never quite goes to plan. One of us gets too drunk Christmas Eve; the turkey over or under-cooks, or (as was the case recently) was still frozen; trivial arguments ¬– the kind that I am sure every family that spends close time with each other during the festive season will know well – are had.

I don’t think the above is unique to us. Most of us are probably very aware that no Christmas ever quite works out the way we get sold on TV: people all laughing and smiling non-stop, a perfectly roasted turkey, not one hungover face or family argument in sight.

When I look back at my life and the many different Christmases I had, I struggle to find any that went quite this way or without some hiccups. I used to joke that no Christmas with my family growing up was ever complete without someone crying. Most times it was very likely myself or my sister, Hannah, due to the high amount of sibling rivalry we used to feel.

There was one year my mum found herself in an awkward position. She had accidentally put the wrong label on a gift that was for me, but it instead ended up saying “To Hannah, from Santa”. Unfortunately for her and me, Hannah was still a firm believer of Santa. Even more unfortunate for my mother was that she is blessed with two terribly stubborn daughters, each refusing to back down.

Recognising her mistake, my mum tried to coax the item away from my sister. But no matter how hard she tried to bargain, Hannah was not budging; “Santa gave this to me. Santa doesn’t make mistakes” was said on repeat. So, the good person I was at the age of 10, I took it on myself to let Hannah know that Santa was “not real” and that it was mum that made a mistake. I’m pretty sure that that made three people cry. Weirdly, I remember all this (maybe it is the guilt?) so clearly, but I can’t even remember what the gift I was so desperate for was.

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Other times were more harmless. When I was a teenager, one of the last Christmases I would spend with my family for the foreseeable, I was vegetarian and my dad “forgot” (whether that verb accurately describes what happened here, given that, at that point, I had been off meat for three years, is debatable) and there was nothing I could eat. Even the sides, of which there were little, were German potato dumplings stuffed with meat and green beans covered in bacon. He laughed; I cried. But, again, I think it is funny now.

Another year, Douglas, our – always hungry – Old English Sheepdog, ate all the biscuits we had previously made for the day, while we all had been out for a winter walk. After a frantic search for them before clocking what had happened, and then making sure the dog was okay (he was, apart from being sick across the house), we all ended up crying with laughter. It is funny to think Douglas was also the one to “ruin” Easter one year, as he ate all the hand-coloured boiled eggs my mum had hidden in the garden before my sister and I even got a shot at searching for them.

Despite maybe shedding tears at the time, I look back at these events with a smile on my face. They weren’t perfect. Truly, most years, they were chaotic. But that crazy nature made them stand out as distinct memories with my family.

I don’t want to whip out the tiny violin here, but one additional aspect is that the family I had then doesn’t exist anymore. We’ve all reshuffled; the heads around the table have changed. My granny died, my parents are divorced, and the dog is long gone, too. I now live in Scotland, my mother in America. My dad remains at the house and two new faces have come to the table in the form of my stepmum and brother.

I don’t begrudge these changes. Quite the opposite, really. I will forever say that I am happy the way things have worked out. I love this new version of my family. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some attachment to the memories and unit there once was.

Then, even when I left and was in charge of navigating “my” Christmases, something would happen. For the first two years of living in Scotland, a friend of mine, who is from Northern Ireland and didn’t always make it home either (both of us worked in hospitality then and time-off wasn’t always a given), invited me round to his flat.

I have to say that the actual Christmas day, much owed to my friend’s impeccable hosting skills, was, in fact, always pretty perfect. It was just the two of us and we would sit and eat too much Christmas dinner, drink cocktails, watch Christmas movies and were always very merry. It was Christmas Eve that I “ruined” each year.

One year, I had gotten a kitten and had not slept all night because of its constant meowing. I ended up two hours late after accidentally falling asleep and looked like a zombie. The following year, I had to call my friend on Christmas morning, as I found myself debating whether to go to A&E instead of his house. The night before, I had face planted the pavement after a few too many post-work drinks and had a very swollen – and what I wrongly assumed was possibly broken – nose. But both years I made it in the end.

I would have probably remembered the Christmases with my friend nonetheless. They were special. It was great to be with someone in what could have been a lonely time for each of us. I think these events brought us closer, and we’re still really good friends today. But the fact these Christmases also have silly backstories surrounding them makes me love them even more.

Ultimately, Christmas can be a magical time, but it can also be one where people feel a lot of pressure to get it right. How that looks is subjective, but there is definitely a somewhat universal quest to make it as picture perfect as possible. But is that really what Christmas is about, and is that achievable?

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I think my favourite memories are the ones that weren’t so polished. Life just doesn’t always work out the way we plan and, while stressful, sometimes these moments are what makes things special.

Of course, a normal Christmas, if such a thing exists, is nothing to begrudge either. For the sanity of my partner’s mother, I wish for a semi-quiet affair every year. But I do hope that, maybe, the pressure on all of us tones down a little. Because, looking back, I’d take a “ruined” Christmas over a “perfect” one any day.