Last Friday night I was able to take part in one of my favorite holiday traditions – Christmas Eve dinner at Waffle House.  That’s right – I said Waffle House.  It’s one of those meals that I look forward to each year in a way that only comes from sharing a tradition with family.  Like most great family traditions, this one appears to be completely insane to an outsider.  Why would anyone subject himself to Waffle House food on any day of the year, much less Christmas Eve, many will ask.  The answer is simple.  Wrapped up in each of those golden waffles is a little piece of heaven – a warm fluffy touchstone to home.  They don’t call it comfort food for nothing.

The tradition started almost 10 years ago when my wife and I were living in Dallas.  My son had been born early that year, and we were getting ready for his first Christmas.  Up until that point, we had continued to travel back to Georgia each year to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with our families.  That year was to be different.

It was very important to both of us that our son get to spend Christmas in his own bed, in his own house.  Sure – he wouldn’t have known the difference that first year, or maybe many others – but WE would know the difference.  I had spent every Christmas Eve up until that point, sleeping in my own bed, at my parents’ house.  It was a continuity of the Christmas experience that was important to me.  So important, I was willing to forego it in order to make sure my son had the same experience.

I don’t think our families were thrilled with our decision, but my wife and I were of the same mind.  Still – it hit us that day.  This would be our first Christmas truly away from home.  The house was all decorated and ready for Santa, but the thought of sitting there, eating dinner, while our families gathered without us, was not as easy to digest as we thought.  We needed to get out of the house for a bit – we needed to go out to dinner.

We are late eaters on a good day, so it was pushing 8:00PM before we finally had the car loaded and headed out.  That severely limited our choices – but Waffle House was open.  In fact, I’m not sure that it’s ever closed (begging the question, why do they have locks on the doors?)  We made our way down I-35 and soon found ourselves pulling in to the parking lot.

Growing up in the South, we were no strangers to Waffle House.  I’ve had countless breakfasts and lunches there, and during high school, it was our pit stop of choice after the midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.  (Ever walked into a Waffle House at 2:00AM wearing a floor length leather coat, a silver cross in one ear, and long, teased up hair, with blue mascara highlights in it?  It’s an experience.  And by the way, mascara really doesn’t come out of your hair very easily.  Trust me – I know from whence I speak.)

At any rate, Waffle House was something familiar.  Walk in to any Waffle House in the country and you will get the same three employees, bright fluorescent lights, worn out booths, and ancient jukebox.  You’ll get short order food, cooked while you wait, filled with grease and a dash of home.  You’ll also get the absolute best waffle on the planet – the Krispy Kreme of waffles you might say.

We sat down, ordered a big breakfast for dinner and talked.  Just being there, eating that food was comforting.  We played a few Christmas songs on the jukebox, chatted with the waitress as she come over to see our infant son, and managed to forget for an hour just how much we missed home.  Instead, we focused on the food, on each other, and on how exciting it was to be a family of three that Christmas.  It really hit me that night that home was now wherever my wife and son were.  A holiday tradition was born.

When moved back to Atlanta for a while, and were able to let both of our kids (having since had a daughter) enjoy both Christmas at home AND Christmas day with our extended families.  We moved the tradition to New Year’s Eve when we were back in Atlanta – but Waffle House remained part of the holidays for us.

Now we’ve moved away again.  For the past two Christmas Eves, Waffle House has again become our dinner destination.  As we sat there last Friday, I was again comforted.  Yes, my kids were bickering with each other, and yes – I was looking at a case of heartburn before bed – but it still felt right.

As my wife’s favorite Christmas song, “Please Come Home For Christmas” by the Eagles, was playing on the jukebox – I was reminded of what I learned on that first trip to Waffle House on Christmas Eve in Texas.  I WAS home.  I still have the same family of four that I grew up with, but the lens has shifted – I’m the dad now, not the son.  It’s up to me to give my kids the same safe, loving home my parents gave me.

I don’t know where we will spend our Christmas Eve in years to come.  What I do know is:  my home is now where my wife and children are.  No matter where we go, or how long we stay – it won’t really matter where we are,  as long as we’re together.  That’s all it takes to make a great Christmas Eve for me.  That, and a nice warm waffle.

© 2010, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.

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