It’s just about 5:00 PM when my family and I take our seats at Sabroso, our favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant. A basket of fresh, hot tortilla chips slide onto our table, along with small bowls of mild and genuinely spicy salsa. I scoop a healthy portion of the latter onto a triangle, crunch, and lean back in my chair, a wide grin on my face. It’s December 22nd. I’ve survived another Christmas season.
The year? It doesn’t matter. This is something we do every year when the calendar hits 12/22. The choice of restaurant is evergreen, partially because Mexican food is my culinary security blanket, but also because Sabroso’s food is damn good. The 5:00 PM dinnertime is constant, too. It’s slightly earlier than when we typically eat – we’re a 5:30 dining crew – but we also know that there are three big days of family, friends, and feasting looming on the schedule. The early time gives us an extra slice of rest.
I love those three days. Two of them you know about because they’re either part of your own celebration or because they’re inescapable. The other day – December 23 – is an outlier for most. Not for us. That day is a Christmas Adam, a Calvinball of a “holiday” made up by dear friends of ours simply so we could designate a day to hang out together during the holiday season. Its name and subsequent menu riffs on the Bible’s book of Genesis. It makes perfect sense that Christmas Adam would occur before Christmas Eve, and the day’s subsequent dining on spare ribs and apple pie are references to the destined-to-fall twosome. It’s a lovely occasion that sets the tone for the other two days.
Our dinner at Sabroso the night before is its own entity, too. It acts as a safe passageway between the constant chaotic pull of the holiday season and the happy clatter of family chatter and clinking drinks. When that first piquant-dipped chip hits my palate, it brings with it messages that burn away all forms of stress. The gifts are bought. The tree is trimmed. Work projects and professional obligations can be paused for a spell. All that’s left to do this season is enjoy the company of family, friends, and loved ones.
Nothing prepares the soul for these special days better than a dose of comfort food, which is why December 22nd always has Sabroso’s proper Mexican fare involved. It’s not upscale, nor is it Americanized and slathered in cheese. It’s elevated, but it still retains a homestyle vibe. It’s a groove that reminds me of my formative years growing up in the largely Hispanic Los Angeles suburb of Maywood, where friends and school potlucks gave me prime access to properly-made, abuela-approved homemade stuff. This connection planted cravings for good Mexican food within my psyche, and they must be dealt with periodically. December 22nd marks one of those periods. By now, my brain has probably been hardwired to expect a heaping helping of their peruano beans that day. I kind of hope it has. Even if it hasn’t, it’s what’s happening.
As the perpetual motion of the Christmas crush ends, I hope that you can find your own island of calm between the chaos of preparation and the rush of festive enjoyment. At the very least, I hope you take pause to eat something that brings you a sliver of comfort, either on December 22nd or a date of your own choosing. See you in 2018.