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It’s the most wonderful time of year – unless you have a Christmas (health) mishap. Readers share their festive fails and get help from our experts
hile most of us spend the majority of December excitedly counting down to the big day, things rarely run without some kind of hitch. From turkey dramas and tricky guests to unwanted gifts and period pains, sometimes it feels like it would have been safer for you and your reindeer onesie to have just stayed in bed. Not this year, though. Because we asked you to share your biggest Christmas mishaps – from food flops to vomiting bugs – and, with a little expert help, we’ve got those scenarios covered, just in case trouble tries to rear its head again. You’re welcome.
Ailsa Bannerman, 42, picture editor, London, says: ‘My mum is paranoid about us all getting food poisoning from her home-cooked Christmas dinner. In fact, I only found out last year that the reason she gives the turkey an extra hour is because “every oven in the UK is on at the same time on Christmas Day, so there’s less heat to go around. That means it will need extra cooking”. The result? We’ve been having a dry bird for years.’
COMBAT THE CHRISHAP ‘While I admire Ailsa’s mum’s dedication to avoiding food poisoning, you don’t need to overcook your turkey,’ says Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington. ‘It helps to think of the four Cs. First, wash hands before cooking and after handling raw meat, and ensure cooking utensils and work surfaces are clean. Avoid cross-contamination – store raw turkey/meat at the bottom of the fridge to stop any of the juices dripping on to other, cooked food. Also, don’t wash raw poultry before putting it in the oven, as water splashes can spread bacteria. And of course, cook your turkey properly.’ The official advice for roasting your bird? Defrost it in a covered dish at the bottom of the fridge, or on a work surface if it won’t fit, testing the thicker parts of the turkey with a fork to see whether it feels frozen before you pop it in the oven. (Also look for ice crystals in the cavity.) Plan roasting times in advance and check the meat is steaming hot all the way through when cooked, and not pink anywhere. Cut into the thickest part, and ensure the juices run clear when you pierce it or press the thigh. ‘The fourth C to remember is to chill foods safely – cover leftovers and place them in the refrigerator as soon as they’re cool, always within two hours of being cooked,’ adds Vicky.
Polly Roe, 34, teacher, Southampton, says: ‘Last Christmas, my grandfather – who has been losing his hearing for years, but always denies it – insisted on choosing the day’s festive music. While his list was fine (lots of Frank Sinatra), the volume was ear-shatteringly loud, to the point where we couldn’t hear each other speak. Every other minute, a family member would discreetly turn the sound down, only for grandad to walk past, complain that the CD player was broken and switch it up again. I felt as though my ears were ringing for weeks.’
COMBAT THE CHRISHAP ‘Most hearing problems are age-related,’ explains Boots Hearingcare’s Karen Shepherd. ‘Even if yours is fine, one in six people in the UK lives with hearing loss, so the chances are that someone you know is experiencing difficulty. Key signs include finding it hard to follow conversations in a group or when there’s background noise; mishearing what’s being said or giving the wrong answers (or not answering at all); TVs or radios being turned up too loud; and asking people to repeat what they’ve said. The good news is, hearing tests are simple – and free at Boots. So if you have a loved one who’s in denial about hearing issues, you could tell them you’re having a check yourself, suggest they join you, and offer to buy them lunch afterwards.’ To book a test and find out more, go to bootshearingcare.com.
I couldn’t even eat a mouthful of the amazing dinner my mum had been preparing for days beforehand
Lucy Clarke, 35, author, Poole, says: ‘Two Christmases ago, I was struck with the worst period pains of my life. I honestly thought I was going to pass out. So midway through Christmas dinner – a huge affair, as my parents had invited aunts, uncles and cousins to ours for the day – I excused myself to slope off to my room, where I cried in pain for about two hours. I couldn’t even eat a mouthful of the amazing meal my mum had been preparing for days beforehand. I still wince when I think about it.’
COMBAT THE CHRISHAP ‘Keep track of when your period is due, and for when you get those cramps, consider taking ibuprofen to help relieve the pain,’ says Boots pharmacist Liz McPherson. ‘Ibuprofen has anti-inflammatory properties and can also reduce the heaviness of a period. Once cramping has started, a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel and held against your tummy can often help ease pain, while paracetamol can be used to top up pain relief between doses of ibuprofen. It’s safe to take both at the same time or spaced apart (ibuprofen is best with food or on a full stomach), but always read the instructions on the packet carefully.’ A warm bath or shower might also help – as can light, circular massage around your lower abdomen. Keeping active might reduce pain, too – so see whether you feel up to a gentle walk or cycle. And speak to your GP if you’re experiencing severe period pain, or the pattern of your periods changes (becoming more irregular, for example).
Tina Allen, 50, copy editor, Bournemouth, says: ‘One Christmas a few years ago, my husband and I bagged a last-minute bargain for a Caribbean cruise. Unfortunately, very early on Christmas Eve morning while we were away, my husband woke up feeling ill. A doctor was sent to our cabin and diagnosed him with norovirus – handing over some pills and rehydration sachets, and telling him to stay put. The next thing I knew, three men in full disposable bodysuits and masks entered our cabin to spray the room and everything in it, and my husband was quarantined for 48 hours. I voluntarily isolated myself as well, just in case I came down with the illness, too. Luckily, I was fine, but my husband was so sick all Christmas – I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.’
COMBAT THE CHRISHAP The best way to ensure you don’t catch norovirus is by washing your hands often, staying hydrated and watching what you eat – particularly with food from local vendors if you’re on holiday,’ advises Liz. ‘Carrying a hand sanitiser is also a smart move: use it if you’ve been on public transport, or after you’ve touched door handles, to avoid catching/spreading germs further. Don’t rely on it entirely, though – thorough hand-washing before you eat is key. It’s not just norovirus you need to think about during the colder weather – you should also consider getting the winter flu jab (especially if you’re over 65, are pregnant or have certain long-term conditions, such as diabetes or asthma). Just pop into your local Boots store and ask about the services available, and any other winter ailments you’re concerned with. A pharmacist is always on hand.’
He began drinking heavily, giving loud, unhelpful opinions on everything from politics to the roast potatoes
Anne Clarke, 56, teacher, Hampshire, says: ‘Christmas Day in our house is always full of the most unlikely characters – anyone is welcome. One year, we were having 12 people for dinner and a friend asked if they could bring someone who didn’t have any plans, to which I said yes. This “friend of a friend” turned up empty-handed, declared “Christmas is a waste of money” and asked what we would be watching on TV (it’s usually switched off on Christmas Day). Things went from bad to worse when he began drinking heavily, giving loud, unhelpful opinions on everything from politics to the roast potatoes, and promptly fell asleep on the sofa at 3pm, refusing to budge until later that evening. When he eventually left, he exclaimed: “See you next year!” Thankfully, we’ve been away every Christmas since.’
COMBAT THE CHRISHAP ‘We all know stress is unhealthy, but staying calm and deflecting arguments when people are acting in ways that annoy you can be a challenge,’ says communications expert and author Elizabeth Kuhnke. ‘It’s best to face these situations head-on. Start by taking yourself into another room and breathing deeply and slowly to clear your mind (close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose, exhaling through softly pursed lips). When someone treats you in a disrespectful way, you have the right to let them know their behaviour is not acceptable. In this situation, simply telling the guest, “Thank you for sharing your feelings, but Christmas is a special day for me, and if you’d like to watch television/discuss politics/find fault with the meal, then I understand – and my feelings won’t be hurt – if you want to leave,” is a quick way to nip their behaviour in the bud. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you protect what you value, the more others will treat you with the respect you deserve.’
Your Christmas helpers
Help ease period pain with Boots Pharmaceuticals Ibuprofen Caplets 200mg, £1.69/169 points (16-pack); always read the label.Add
Boots Pharmaceuticals Rehydration Treatment, £2.99/ 299 points (6 sachets), relieves short-term dehydration; always read the label.Add
EcoHydra Antibacterial Hand Sanitiser Alcohol Free Foam*, £2.49/249 points (50ml), gets rid of germs without making your hands feel dry.Add
Someone or something making you feel uptight? Roll Tisserand De-Stress Aromatherapy Roller Ball, £5.59/559 points (10ml), on your pulse points to help promote a sense of calm.Add
*Please use biocides safely; always read the label and product information before use.
Words Sophie Goddard Photography Pixeleyes Star baker Jill Tipping