Eating Christmas

Outback Tonight

Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

My grandma is tired, she explains, and this Christmas it's going to be real easy: We're going out for Christmas Eve dinner.

My grandma announces this on Thanksgiving. We've cleared the table, dishes are soaking in the sink, and everyone is picking at their slices of pie. This is the traditional time for proclamations in my family. "No presents this year except for the kids," someone always says, but it never goes down, so I take this "out on Christmas Eve" thing as an empty threat. As the night creeps closer it becomes clear that grandma is not kidding. I hold out hope that someone is going to jerk the wheel, but no: We're going to Outback Steakhouse.

I don't wanna besmirch the place too much -- there are worse chain restaurants, and I'm not above the perverse charms of the "bloomin' onion" -- but the last place I want to spend Christmas Eve is Outback Steakhouse. I try reasoning. How bad could it be? It is very bad.

See also: Zest for Life

They make the servers wear Christmas lights on their vests. I can't make eye contact with any of them, imagining their seething contempt of me. My grandpa is seated at the head of the table and it's like he's a mile away. I can't really hear him talking to me over the din of the place, so I just smile, nodding as the one of the few servers we have for the night plops down a potato. I'm seated next to a column, load-bearing I assume, because why the hell else would it be positioned so obtrusively in the dining room? The table next to us loudly complains about the quality of their meal. I silently agree; my steak's all fat and gristle, but who has the nerve to complain when the cook is back there in the corporate kitchen and not home with this family?

We eat fast, but lose any time we made choking it down when the check comes. My mom and aunts begin dividing and a handful of gift cards are produced. No one knows how much credit is on any of them, so the server begins figuring each little individual mystery out. It takes half-an-hour. My wife and I shove a handful of bills at my mom and say we'll wait outside, where my brother is smoking a cigarette.

Finally paid, we reconvene at my grandma's. We gather around the table, a huge wooden slab I love so much, purchased by my grandpa the year I was born. Cookies are passed around, beers cracked and Franzia poured.

My grandma and uncle begin telling ghost stories, beautiful Catholic ones where the ghosts bring tidings of love and reassurance, that there's something on the other side, and it's wonderful and peaceful. I love these people, and I'd eat Big Macs in the McDonalds ball pit with my grandma if that's what she really wanted to do for Christmas. But we all know this wasn't what she wanted. Grandma laughs at it all, declaring "Well, we're not doing that again."

This time I know the proclamation will stick.

Follow Chow Bella on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.