Christmas Day is great. Even though Pandito is finishing up law school and I am nearly old enough to start auditioning for mom parts, Santa Claus still visits our house. Our dad sets a few big presents out for first thing in the morning and our mom is in charge of stockings. I look most forward to the special moments. When the Bible verse about Mary pondering things in her heart is read, my dad is going to softly repeat it to himself and giggle. I think he likes the idea that anyone could know what was going on in Mary’s heart at that moment, or maybe that the Bible has the eloquence to use the word “ponder”. I know that at some point on Christmas morning, my mom is going to get flustered and pronounce that next year “We should all just give each other checks!” to which Pandito, my dad (Padre Panda) and I all smile quietly at each other and continue our three-sided Christmas cheer. And that night, the four of us will go have an elegant dinner at the only nice restaurant I know of that stays open on Christmas night.
But Christmas Eve is even more special than all those treasured moments. It’s a day for family not marred by the implicit acquisitiveness of Christmas Day. We get up early in the morning and drive down to South Carolina to have lunch with my Grandmother at her local Red Lobster (Note: nothing says “Happy Birthday Jesus” like freezer burned mahi-mahi) and then pile back in the car to drive home. That’s eight solid hours of family time in a moving vehicle right there, where we will be together or choose to fall to our inevitable deaths by bailing out of the car onto the middle of I-85.
Sometimes straight from the car ride back, we head to 7 PM Christmas Eve service, where the first few minutes revolve around my dad quietly filling me in on any church gossip I might have missed. Our minister always makes a rhyming sermon for Christmas Eve, which is usually really funny and always very clever. The service ends with the entire congregation carrying individual candles out into the patio singing “Silent Night”. For me, it’s the moment that embodies the true spirit of Christmas.
Following this sacred ceremony, we all jump in the car and drive around town looking at Christmas lights and heckling. We like to cynically rank tacky decorations; the more inflatable characters the better. This is done mostly out of jealousy, as Padre Panda, Pandito and I would all like to fill our yard with penguins inside of giant snow globes and Mickey Mouse riding vaguely Christmas themed modes of transportation. My mom likes to sit in the back and drink wine during the heckle tour.
The last stop on our Christmas Eve bonanza is China Kitchen, where we fill ourselves with enough MSG to ensure we wake up with sausage fingers on Christmas morning.