My family and I have never celebrated Christmas - and probably never will. We're Jewish, and so every year when the lights of store fronts shut down and Christmas light displays flicker to life, we have nothing to do. You might think we'd be bummed. After all, Santa doesn't visit our house. Our family doesn't gather for cozy Christmas dinners. We'll never know the thrill of anticipation that keeps Christian children lying awake on December 24.
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But even though I'm Jewish, Christmas Eve is actually one of my favorite nights of the year. It has been since I was a child - holiday cookies or not.
You see, Christmas Eve is a really special night for my family. It's a rare and welcome opportunity for uninterrupted quality time together. There's nowhere else to be. Everyone else we know is busy. And while Christians everywhere are eating heaps of holiday ham and watching Hallmark movies in sweaters, my family and I are indulging in a stereotypical ritual we've all grown to love.
First, we go to the movies. We try to get there early - we know the theater is going to be a zoo. But inevitably, we cut it too close every single year. We wait (along with seemingly every other Jew in town) in the long line to the ticket counter and find mediocre seats in a packed theater. My brothers and I giggle through the previews, snacking on popcorn and candy that will hold us over till dinner.
When the movie is over, it's late. We live in South Florida, but somehow there's a slight chill in the air. We rush to the car to blast the heat and debate where we should get dinner. There are two options on the table: the local 24-hour diner or a Chinese restaurant. Both places will be packed.
Most years, we opt for the diner, eager to eat some of our favorite dishes. Where else can you order both a giant bowl of matzo ball soup and a stack of chocolate chip pancakes?
Since it's a holiday, my mom lets us order what we want. One year, my brother ordered a Belgian waffle sundae and washed it down with a cookies and cream milkshake the size of his face. I usually go for a grilled cheese or a BLT. Uninterrupted by social media or sports games, my brothers and I talk and laugh through the meal. We poke fun at my mom and talk about TV. Now that we're older, there are more substantial things to catch up on, too. I get to ask about my brothers' girlfriends and college lives; despite their usual too-cool attitudes, they actually answer.
After we've had our fill of delicious diner fare, we drive through the dark, empty roads back to my mom's house. We linger around her kitchen, still not ready to go to bed. It's after midnight, but for some reason we're wide awake.
Someone proposes playing a board game. My youngest brother is 19 now and we're probably too old to play - but we don't care. Until 2, sometimes 3 in the morning, we laugh over Taboo or Monopoly, high on the sugar from our late-night dinner.
Soon, things will revert back to normal. For the rest of the year, I'll rarely hear personal details about my young adult brothers' lives. Even before we depart from my mom's house a few days later, we'll be distracted by our phones or make other plans. Conversations between the four of us will once again be few and far between.
But we always have that one night of dinner and the movies - always either the diner or Chinese food. They're the only places open! Not that we want anything else. On Christmas Day we'll have more options, though - there are more chain restaurants open than you might think.
Holly Van Hare is the Healthy Eating Editor at The Daily Meal. Her interests include gallivanting around New York City, reading good books, and dogs in cute costumes. You can listen to her podcast Nut Butter Radio and follow her Instagram for more!