There’s a window of magical, somewhat depressing time that exists. No matter the view, you take advantage of it under the assumption it will end one day. It’s a handful of years in your late twenties and early thirties where you don’t have an immediate family of your own, or a spouse, or a dog. College is in the rearview and the future still feels exciting.
I know it’s not everyone, but I know it’s not just me. (1)
You end up spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as an extended weekend at your parents’ place in the town where you went to highschool. In that interim you feel that being solo in the city during the holidays might be lonely. Trendy city neighborhoods become ghost towns. No plastic molded Nativity scenes and no gingerbread men. Why not crash in the spare bedroom of your childhood home to hold the fuzzy nostalgia as long as possible?
There were a number of consecutive years where my sister and I played out this trope. Whether it’s waking up in your car from a long winter’s nap in a wreath of taco bell wrappers, or a rise-and-shine on a Christmas Morn’ to find that you’ve wet your parents’ guest bed. A warm gift from jolly ol’ Saint Nic. Any path chosen leads to the Lost Garden Wishing Well of Regret.
My sister and I would end up at various Kankakee area taverns every Christmas Eve, generally treating the entire county as our own personal abandoned factory. One year we ended up at The Library, a bar adjacent to Olivet Nazarene University, and in my best assumption a jab at the fact that Olivet is a dry campus.
Conducting a Church of God youth group support group after collective vintage run-ins with fellow disheveled former members, also back in town to visit family. Hugs and handshakes between those in The Know. Those who made it out.
The guy who was gay in a hardline conservative 1996 backwoods town, and the Goth kid who was quietly snickered at in church at as being a witch.(2) Friends who were able to fight their way out. Look, if you’re ex-Church of God youth group, you’re drinking at The Library on Christmas Eve. The others? Well. They stay in to finish their Thanksgiving Jones sodas and watch A Christmas Story for the third time that night.
This particular year my sister decided to carry her glass of red wine out to the parking lot on a whim. Doubling down on that choice with another interesting move in opting to fan the entire glass through air. She sent crimson fluid cascading, ultimately soaking our friend Sue’s pure white fur coat. A lamb led to blood red slaughter in a Kankakee pub parking lot.
I met a girl that night in that Bourbonnais bar adjacent that dry college campus. Through course of conversation we both found we lived in Chicago and we agreed to meet up the following night back in the city. Christmas Night.
I came to find, upon owning the duty of establishing a venue for the date that not very many legitimate places are open on Christmas night. When I did find one, I had struck gold; visions of sugar plums dancing in the heads of the three wandering wisemen – a guiding Michelin star leading me to the discovery of Longman & Eagle in Logan Square.
It was my first visit to Longman and I couldn’t possibly come up with a better way to manifest an ever-growing love interest in adoration. Not with the girl. With the venue.(3)
I inaugurated a new yearly tradition of visiting Longman & Eagle every Christmas Night. While most normal people were nestled up with their kin in kerchief and cap, watching their younglings fidget about with their new Tonka trains…for quite a few years in a row, on Christmas Night I was dining off Logan Boulevard on head-to-tail fare.
Whether I had a date with me, next to a window of starlit merriment looking over Kedzie Manor, or I was alone at the bar listening to Wham!. It mattered not. Small talking the bar tender under tinsel and holly – even by myself, my heart sang Carols Noel to an ever changing menu of lamb sausage with grilled corn and roasted pepper, or swordfish with ground cherry relish.
One staple that never changed: a draught pour of Alpha Klaus Christmas Porter. A one-sixth barrel of malted chocolate barley and Mexican sugar was a present and always present. A tulip bulb of spice as crisp as a wintertime sleigh ride and as black as the hearts of the Angels with Filthy Souls.
The sorcery of Christmastime fades to the next period before the New Year. The time where you don’t know what day it is or what you’re supposed to be doing. Like the fadeout of the holiday season, some traditions are forced to end. Whether by global pandemic or twin infants or sometimes both – you hold sacred the memories of rituals that should and will one day be picked up again.
(1) i.e.; a divorcee getting his second wind.
(2)This is actually the same guy.
(3) I had a nice time with the girl and she did come home with me that night to snuggle. There was an interesting and completely mutual understanding the following morning that we didn’t really ever want to see each other ever again. In my view those were some of the best scenarios in life. Having a really great time, great food, and conversation with someone new. Feeling a rush of dopamine, and then immediately heading back in to freedom. Also knowing the other person felt the same For my money, at that point in life, I couldn’t pinpoint a better framework to exist in. Neurotransmitters hit on all cylinders and by default, they never wear off until you let them.