Oh Holy Night or The True Story of Christmas Eve Dinner 2014 by J.R. Henry

My grandmother’s house is quiet, spacious, and ostentatiously expensive. It’s dressed up like Hollywood money from the 1930’s, back before she married into wealth. White columns frame every floor length window, the light from beyond filtering through the slits in the heavy draped curtains. There’s a sleek grand piano in one corner of the room, a glass encased cabinet of silver odd and ends in the other. The plush white carpet is spotted with iridescent sequins of colored light bouncing off the tinkling chandeliers. Dean Martin pipes in softly from the house-wide speaker system.

I’m in the sitting room, perched upon one of several silk upholstered chairs around the massive glass dining table. I try, fruitlessly, to adjust my tights for the half-dozenth time while simultaneously taking in a mouthful of ruby red Chateau St. Michelle. My grandmother’s cat materializes out of nowhere, weaves between my crossed legs, nudging my heels, and ultimately causing me to slide sideways on the slippery silk of my seat. I lurch to one side and manage to set down the crystal glass onto the glass table with an unsettling clang. Some of the wine dribbles down my chin and drops dark crimson onto my lap – no matter. I wore a burgundy dress for this very reason. There is, perhaps, not enough wine in the entire cellar to get me through this evening. I fear the grave outcome of miscalculating my intake and sobering up too soon into the night. I heard estranged cousin Ryan might arrive for dinner.

My younger brother, James, stumbles into the room at this very moment. His long, greasy hair stands in sideways cowlicks, and he is sporting a threadbare Atari console t-shirt- which only barely manages to stretch across his massive form- black sweatpants, and dried ketchup on his double chin. He scratches at his crotch and blinks out at the room with half-lidded bleary eyes. He’s been playing League of Legends for a solid 5 hours now. James’s essence stands in an awe-inspiring juxtaposition to the immaculate sitting room. Almost instantaneously, his presence elicits frantic panic within me.

“What the fuck are you doing? We’re leaving for Christmas dinner in 15 minutes. Take a goddamn shower, for fucks sake!” I screech at him, some syrupy wine still stuck in my throat. “Jesus Christ, when was the last time you got your hair trimmed?” I ask, helpfully.

He looks at me, hair hanging into his eyes, absolute perplexity evident on his face, as if just now noticing my presence. He’s still in the process of transitioning back to three-dimensional reality. For several moments, he seems to consider my question. Then, with a wet snort, lumbers back out of the room.

I move to get up. Wait. I pour another half glass and tip it back with ease. When I set the glass down again, only the viscous legs of the wine remain streaked inside the crystal. The cluttered sounds of drawers opening and closing in the kitchen interrupt dear Mr. Martin.

In the kitchen, James has managed to find my grandmother’s old silver sewing scissors. He leans against the polished marble island, pulls haphazardly at strands of his dirty blond hair, and seems to cut at random.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I repeat, my voice rising an octave by the last syllable.

“Haircut.” He chirps quite happily. Our eyes meet. He grins manically. He’s doing this to me on purpose.

I watch as he tosses clump after greasy clump of tangled hair into the kitchen garbage. The result is the most hideous, asymmetrical bowl cut I have ever witnessed. It conforms to his scalp like a matted helmet that somehow further accentuates his perfectly circular face.

I feel a little nauseated by this point, and I’m not sure if it’s the sulfites in the wine, or the new development in my brother’s increasingly drastic quest to prove that he just doesn’t give a shit in this life.

“It’s still disgustingly greasy,” I whine weakly.

“Not a problem,” he replies earnestly.

I maintain incredulous eye-contact with him as he grabs a bottle of bright blue dish soap near the faucet and upends a third of it onto his head. My left hand starts to twitch. It feels uncomfortably light and ungrounded. Where is my wine glass?

He aggressively lathers the soap into soft blue bubbles. Then flipping up the faucet tab, he maneuvers his entire sphere of a head into the ceramic cavern of the sink and rinses his hair with the kitchen water.

By this time, my younger sister, Becca, has heard my repeated and anguished screams of “Are you fucking serious? No really, are you fucking kidding me? Oh my- Oh my god! What are- oh my-” And she too ventures toward the commotion.

Unlike my brother, my sister has already dressed in her dinner attire- a bubblegum pink gothic-lolita dress with lace hems, purple Doc Martins, and a pink denim jacket decorated ornately with iron-on patches. Notable gems include “No Gods, No Men, No Tampons,” “Burn the Patriarchy,” and “Kill Your Rapist.” An effective conversation starter for dinner with the conservative, Catholic side of the family.

Though her face is glued to a pink handheld Nintendo DS emitting the sounds of Animal Crossing, she manages to pull away for the spilt second required to assess the situation.

James is now standing, stripped to his underwear in the middle of the kitchen, dripping onto the marble tiles, attempting to shake his hair dry like a god damn Labrador Retriever. I watch with detached marvel as tiny droplets of watered-down blue soap land onto nearby oil paintings.

Becca helpfully collapses to the floor, laughing. James gallops out of the kitchen to change. He returns wearing a slightly-less moth eaten shirt and the same sweatpants as earlier. I sigh and remember to pick my battles. Also, the oven clock informs me that we’re already ten minutes late. It was my responsibility, as the eldest sibling, to ensure our punctual arrival at dinner.

In my head, I imagine our eventual arrival at the restaurant. My grandmother has made reservations at the Cliffhouse- a fairly swanky establishment in downtown Palm Springs. I say fairly because they still agree to serve chicken nuggets upon request everytime Becca orders. The three of us will be a fucking circus act compared to the conservative Republican clientele at the Cliffhouse- a cotton candy colored punk with magenta hair, an overweight gamer with a bowl cut, and an unequivocally drunk lesbian. I wonder if the matron will even let us through the doors.

We all pile into Becca’s white Honda Civic and I pray for the strength not to get sick all over the backseat during the drive.

We get lost.

I try desperately to salvage the situation with my GPS, but Siri mistakes our current location as being in the middle of the Salton Sea. Meanwhile, James, having taken the front passenger seat, is in charge of driving music. He alternates between Kids Bop renditions of last year’s top 40 hits and car-rattling dub-step techno. Everytime the bass sounds like wet flatulence, he laughs so forcefully, I fear he might choke or break a rib. The entire car moves with each guffaw.

Beyond the window, city lights twinkle like constellations across the black sea of desert. More dimly, the city is reflected in the night sky around a sliver of the moon. Everything is still. Miles into the distance, I can see the solitary light of the tram taking passengers all the way up the San Jacinto mountains.

The car begins to lurch violently to one side, then the other, as Becca tries to punch James in the crotch while driving. He’s taken to reciting Skrillex tweets out loud while Becca screams over him, pointing out the casual sexism and patriarchal perspectives.

I glance at my phone. Four missed calls. We’re already an hour late. Worse yet, I think I may be sobering up.

We pass by an In-and-Out off the Montgomery free way exit. I think about foie gras and the tiny arugula salads my family must be enjoying at this very moment in the restaurant. We must have all been thinking the same thing because, wordlessly, Becca pulls off the freeway. No one says anything as we pull into the In-and-Out drive through. It’s surprisingly busy for a Christmas eve.

All things considered, animal-style Christmas eve dinner is pretty tasty. It could have been way worse. For instance, we could have made it to the Cliffhouse.

And I mean, we’re Jewish anyways.

*J.R. lives in Tacoma and enjoys all things vague and pseudo-intellectual.