One of the rare family Christmas memories I have from childhood is of something we called “Honking For Hamburgers.”
In the before times, when I was young and dinosaurs ruled the earth, there was no such thing as a drive-thru. For one thing we still spelled it “through” back then and, moreover, we called them drive-ins. Cars and burgers were linked from the beginning, I guess. You’d drive in and up to one of the menu stands next to each parking space in the lot that radiated out from the hamburger stand itself. Once your mind was made up, you’d blow the horn. A car hop then came out to your car. I never saw one on roller skates like in the movies. Seems a potentially very messy combination to me. What we got mostly was some sullen high school girl with an attitude and an order pad.
A car hop took our order. Then we got to wait around forever in the car. Eventually, she brought out our burgers and fries on a tray that hooked onto the side of the car with the window rolled down. I thought it was wonderful and there weren’t even little choking-risk, plastic-crap, marketing based toys. Just burgers eaten in the unfiltered fumes of the parking lot. No pesky smog control devices for us.
The best named drive-in was in Britton’s Neck – an alleged town in South Carolina. The stand was called the Park and Blow. This meant that their sign said “Britton’s Neck Park and Blow.” I get an adolescent giggle thinking about it even now.
The point of this digression is to explain that at the time of this particular Christmas memory from my very questionably spent youth, you honked to place your order at the drive-in.
Drive-ins were garish places, garnished liberally with enough neon to be seen from space.
Despite my humble origins and though we lacked for a lot, we were never short on judgment. It was our feeling that the houses festooned with lights lining the roof, covering the shrubbery and illuminating the fiberglass nativity scenes looked like drive-ins. So, as a family, we would pile into the car, drive around town and spot particularly egregious examples of overzealous Christmas yard decor. When we are all decided on an over lit candidate, we’d pull into their drive-way and “Honk for hamburgers.” We’d flee when someone emerged. Sort of a holiday ding-dong-ditch.
Such were the simple joys of my youth.
I suppose this might seem a bit thin on Christmas spirit and familial warmth. It might even seem a bit ironic, given my own proclivity for extreme holiday decorating. But I am a man who has never so much as had a meal in a restaurant on my own with my father. I may have dined alone with Mom when we drove together to that funeral one Thanksgiving, but that’s pretty much it. So, the fact that we got together to do anything even joyous-adjacent makes for a fond holiday memory.
Traditions are like that, I think. Nothing we do in life has any real meaning. I don’t mean life is meaningless, I’m saying that we decide what’s important. Like picking the 25th of December and saying that it means something. Since we made up the idea of December and established the convention of numbering the days, making one of them more significant than the other 30 or 31 or 28 or occasionally 29, well, that takes tradition.
In the end it’s the lights and the wrapping paper that make Christmas, Christmas. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of junk under a dead tree.
Whether it’s a month of fasting, eight candles or fireworks at sunset, our traditions give meaning to the events in our lives. Weddings and birthdays and holidays mean something to us more because of the celebrations and ceremonies than the date. I have friends who get tattoos or piercings to mark special occasions. It’s a bit literal for me, but I get it.
I hear a lot about commercialization and whatnot, but what would a holiday be if we didn’t celebrate it? Without the crystal sphere and Times’ Square, New Years would just be midnight.
A lot of what makes the occasions in life occasions is that they only happen, well, occasionally. If the Christmas lights were up all year, it would be no big deal at the holiday. If you have caviar and cream cheese every day, peanut butter and jelly becomes the delicacy. But if there are no dress occasions then there are no occasions. Too much of the special of life slips through our fingers. I’ve got a closet full of tuxedos I never wear. I think that’s too bad.
I know I can’t live every week like it’s Shark Week, but does every day have to be casual Friday?