It started when my parents got divorced and my sisters and I would alternate who we spent the holidays with every year. If it was my mom’s turn for Christmas, we went to evening mass on Christmas Eve with our grandparents before coming home in our red and black dresses. We would all snack on appetizers and cookies my grandmother made while listening to Christmas music and open our stockings, then change into matching pajamas and go to bed.
But if it was my dad’s turn, there was no church and there were no poofy dresses. He wasn’t much for cooking, so we would order Chinese food. Then we would eat it in front of the television while we watched whatever Christmas movies were airing. We absolutely loved it.
Now that we are all older, our traditions have changed. I have a family of my own and, since Christmas Day is spent mostly out of our home visiting our extended families, I like to keep Christmas Eve just the four of us— my husband, our two children, and me. Our family is still young, so we are still in the early stages of forming traditions.
My husband and I have both added beloved traditions from our own childhoods into the Christmas Eves we spend with our own children now. We let the kids open their stockings. We listen to Christmas music. We watch the movies airing on television.
And we order Chinese food. Always.
Chinese food at Christmas isn’t just a tradition; it’s an institution. Christmas Day is the busiest day for Chinese restaurants around the country. This is partly due to the Jewish tradition of Chinese food and a movie, but it has been adopted by loads of other people who are just too lazy to cook (like me) or would rather spend their time celebrating than sweating in the kitchen (also me). There is nothing like a pile of General Tso’s chicken, still holding the cubic form of its to-go container, to make it feel like Christmas.
A year and a half ago, we moved to a new house in our town. We are in a new school district, closer to a different library, and out of the delivery range for my favorite Chinese restaurant.
It has been a year and a half of trying various Chinese food places, my emotions ranging from disappointment (“They forgot the duck sauce.”) to flat-out rage (“You call this lo mein?!”) and I have been sadly making new plans for Christmas Eve that involve me (ugh) cooking.
That is, I had been making new plans. New, shitty plans that I was not excited about at all. I had been making them until I noticed a little Chinese food joint tucked in the corner of a strip mall that I had never seen before. It wasn’t new, but it was new to me. I ordered myself some take-out one night so I could test run my final hope, and dear sweet baby Jesus, they came through.
THE TRADITION CONTINUES!
’Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Except for me on my way to the fridge for some leftover egg rolls to nosh on while I finish wrapping those goddamn gifts I procrastinated.