It is a very long-standing tradition in our family that at some time during the gathering someone will furrow their brow, rise up with mock angst and horror in their voice, and point to someone else with a quivering hand and say, “YOU RUINED CHRIIIIIIST-MAAAAAAS!”  (or Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, or Easter).


(I realize this is a quote from some movie but Googling just now without my speakers plugged in has caused me to give up.  I don’t want to lose this moment.)


This “tradition” was birthed the time I was late to a midnight Christmas Eve service and set off a building alarm by parking out back and hurriedly trying to enter the church building through a side door.  The wrong door.  (This is the kind of stuff that always happens to me when I’m late, yet never seems to trigger punctuality for the next time.)


Basically, there just wasn’t enough “silent night, holy night” going on after I arrived and slid into my pew during the opening carol an hour before midnight.  I won’t tell you the name of this church or even the town lest you happened to have heard about that disastrous event.  I blush just thinking about it.


After the singing and the sermon and the typical Christmas Eve service fare, there was a very practiced and polished theatrical narration by a distinguished man in a tux.  I would have been lost in the moment and soaked up every nuance of tone and possibly even held my breath through each of the pregnant pauses, probably given myself over to enrapturement until the final word. . . but for the ALARM.


They apologized but nobody on staff knew how to shut it off.


It was actually physically painful to sit and listen because of the contrast of the performer’s perfect solemnity (likely representing hours of practice) and the breached and blaring security system (that at some point was joined by a police siren).  The alarm was eventually taken care of. . . just prior to his final moment of delivery.


Following the closing prayer, I suddenly wondered out loud (no filter) if it was me that had set off the alarm?  And my siblings (there are six of them), plus cousins and significant others, pounced.  Literally.  From that moment it was decreed that I “ruined” Christmas Eve. . . quietly at first. . . as they all red-faced scooted out of the pews.  Not me, I was still processing and wondering aloud (and probably too loudly because I was being told to “hush”).


And then there was a short reprieve because I had driven separately (doing some important errand that had made me late).  But when we got home, and all the next day, it was full-on ribbing.


I’m reminded of this every Christmas, and sometimes on other holidays.  Usually by my dearest brother-in-law. . . if he’s not bringing up the Christmas that I moved that stupid couch and scratched his installed-that-very-week hardwood floors.  Yup, I used to be a certified mess.


But these things are short-lived when it’s the holiday season.


Within days, or even a few hours, someone could burn a turkey, under cook a pie, blow out the candles too slobbery, or even forget to start the coffee and “ruin” the latest birthday or holiday.  Sometimes, there’s an “almost ruin” and a quick save followed by a celebration because the lasagna didn’t crash to the floor after all, or there really was creamer in the frig.


If there was no redemption in that moment (because you’ve done something truly erroneous, like I don’t know, let the kids swordfight with sticks or gave a side-wink when you saw them sneaking caffeine) a previously guilty party can be stripped of an unwanted title as quickly and unceremoniously as when they were saddled with it, and the new person then owns it.  My bad, my bad.


Though, practically speaking, if a previous fail is epic enough (like setting off the alarm at the Christmas Eve service) it’s fair game at any time.


Recently, my family has been in that dry spell of get-togethers following the Easter/Mother’s Day/Father’s Day run and before the post-summer beach trips, birthdays, and early fall bonfires.  Kind of a lull.  But then we just had a last-minute extended get-together and added some new faces/family members to the mix.  And I ruined the cookout by not bringing catsup.


(And I daresay that not having catsup at a cookout is pretty much on par with ruining a church service, even by my standards.)


But everyone decided instead to talk about how much they love mustard.


And I liked it.