It is Christmas Eve. This is one of my favorite days of the entire year. I love the coziness and the anticipation that comes along with it. I love how society shuts down and everyone gathers inside their snowed in houses to eat warming, seasonal foods that they’ve looked forward to all year long.
When I was growing up, I loved all of the traditions that took place at Christmas. I used to watch my father make homemade Kahlua liquor as a Christmas favor. I can still remember so clearly the sweet scent of sugar, coffee and vodka floating through the air. I also remember the sharp scent of pine, exhaled by the needles of the Christmas tree. I used to sit in front of it with my brother, mesmerized by the lights flickering off of the silver tinsel on the tree.
On Christmas Eve, my family would attend an Episcopalian church service. Besides the occasional Quaker meeting, it was the only time we attended church all year long. It was a kid’s service. All the children that regularly attended church would dress up in their little costumes and re enact the nativity story. Then the entire congregation would stand up to sing the old Biblical Christmas songs. I detested religion growing up. But there was something about that Christmas service that I loved. I loved dressing up in fancy dresses. I loved the rich glow of the dark wooden pews. I loved the ancient looking stone of the church building and the colossal glory of the stained glass windows. I loved to close my eyes and feel the exalted sound of the united voices of the congregation run across my skin.
After the church service was done, we would go out to a Chinese restaurant in town. The dawning of the tradition of going out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve is a funny story. We went there the first year that it opened up as a family on a whim when we noticed that the sign on the building said open. I could sum my mother up in one word… activist. This means that when a foreign restaurant opened in town, my mother was eager to support them immediately, being fully aware that the rest of the Caucasian, Mormon demographic in town would be wary of foreigners and thus avoid the restaurant and make them feel ostracized. Mormons like to think of themselves as good, open armed, inclusive Christ loving people. But the reality in the rural towns of Utah is that most of them are the exact opposite of that. The demographic of the area is nearly entirely Mormon and so they never have to interact with people that aren’t Mormon, much less people that are from a different race.
Long story short, when we walked in, true to form, we were the only people there. The entire family that owned the restaurant was lined up at the entrance, with enormous smiles on their faces, ecstatic to be doing business. Having only just immigrated to the United States, they barely spoke English. They waited on us hand and foot, practiced speaking English and when we finished the meal they explained that someone in town had told them about the tradition of giving gifts on Christmas, so they brought out presents to the table. They seemed so proud of themselves to have fit in with the tradition in a foreign country. Only, when we unwrapped the presents, they turned out to be edible underwear! It turns out a person in town had wanted to run them out of town by telling them that giving people edible underwear was a tradition on the Christmas holiday, knowing full well that even the average lax Mormon that showed up, would be horrified and boycott the business. My parents are not into kinky sexual practices, and so edible underwear was not really their thing. But my father, in his diplomatic way, walked up to the counter and explained that he was excited about the gift (he added a wink). He then explained that the person who told them that edible underwear was a tradition on Christmas was mistaken and that it would even offend many people in town. I was young enough that I don’t remember the reaction they had to that news. It must have been painful to realize that not everyone in the town they’d just moved to wished them well. But my parents decided to go back every year to support them and it turned into a tradition.
Growing up, my brother and I would get to pick one present from under the tree to open on Christmas Eve. Of course we would have picked them out weeks in advance. I collected Breyer horses growing up. When I moved away from home, I had a collection of over 80 of them. I would get a new one every Christmas and I had a sixth sense for the shape and feel of those old Breyer horse boxes. I would pick that present to open every year. After I unwrapped it, I would give it a name and I would sleep through the night, clutching it as if it were a new member of the family.
I’m still utterly in love with the energy of Christmas and how happy everyone seems in the spirit of giving and community that it just so happens that I did a video on Christmas!