Our Christmas dinner is Chinese takeout, and has been for years.
Of course we didn’t plan to start this tradition, but some of the best traditions are those you don’t set out to start.
If I remember correctly, it started years ago when my mother-in-law was recovering from some surgery and wasn’t up for doing the whole big Christmas dinner thing. Our house was small, and we weren’t in a position to host. Neither was my brother-in-law. So, we figured we’d go out. And since Chinese restaurants are some of the very few open on Christmas, that’s where we ended up.
For the first few years, we would go to the restaurant. Then children came along and we started getting takeout. We took turns having it at my in-laws, brother-in-laws, and our house. It’s been probably 15 or so years we’ve been doing this and never once has anyone expressed the desire to do anything different.
Probably because we’ve realized how smart it is. Instead of spending the day cooking, we nap. Instead of spending hours cleaning up after, we sip wine and spend time together. Instead of spending a fortune on food, we get enough egg rolls, white cartons, and fortune cookies to feed three families for under $100.
Sure, it’s not your classic Christmas dinner, but it works for us. Funny thing is, we thought we were different. We thought we were odd. Who eats Chinese food on Christmas? What about the perfect centerpiece, dramatic table scape, and great-grandma’s stuffing recipe? It’s that what makes Christmas, well, Christmas?
Turns out, we’re not so different after all.
For the past few years, we’ve gotten our takeout from a Chinese restaurant in a nearby suburb about 15 minutes away. We were thrilled this past year when our local Chinese restaurant decided to open on Christmas. We placed out takeout order several days in advance, and on Christmas evening, and my husband and father-in-law headed out to retrieve our unorthodox holiday meal.
The restaurant is less than a mile from my in-laws house. After they’d been gone over a hour, I called my husband. I was met with a slightly distressed voice. The restaurant was slammed. Packed. Wall-to-wall. They were dumbfounded, as was the restaurant. The staff was frazzled, they were running out of food, and the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. It was like something out of a Chevy Chase holiday movie.
Finally, my husband and father in law returned with the food, somewhat exhausted from the ordeal. We still laugh about it today. My husband and I ate lunch at the restaurant recently and asked the owner if they were going to open on Christmas this year. She got this horrified look on her face, recalling the wild holiday of a year ago.
But it made me think: perhaps many of these long-standing holiday traditions are something we believe we have to do. Sure, there are people who delight in basting the perfect turkey and setting the most luxurious table. But in some ways, what the holidays should be has been sold to us on TV and in grocery-store aisle magazines. Soft candlelight, beautiful children, a perfect meal, a gentle snowfall. But let’s face it: that is not most people’s reality. And, truth is, all the work and expense and expectations can weigh heavily on families, especially women.
Because, judging from the turnout at our funky little Chinese restaurant last Christmas, what matters most to people isn’t what the table looks like or how tender the turkey is. What matters most is spending time and sharing a meal with the people you love.