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Christmas Eve, 2014, Rachel – my closest friend and partner in adventure – and I fly from opposite ends of the country to meet in the least Christmassy place we could find, two friends eager to reconnect and to escape the frenzy that the holidays engender. Las Vegas, the city of appalling excess and aggressive energy seems, for reasons recede from memory over the years, like the perfect place to reimagine holiday traditions.
We check into The Cosmopolitan, a venue as alluring as its name implies, and find our suite after an ear-popping ride in a bejeweled elevator. The view from the balcony is everything we had hoped for, iconic landmarks strewn across the landscape amid a constellation of color and light.
It’s Christmas Eve. We celebrate by checking in on Tinder. We find we are viewing the same men. We prank them cruelly, each of us giving identical responses. We laugh until we are weeping openly. One brave Tinderer, a Las Vegas pharmacist, finally gets the joke. He invites us out for ice skating and shows us Old Las Vegas. More hilarity ensues.
Christmas day dawns brilliant blue with an icy and unrelenting wind. We spend it exploring on foot, walking for miles, weaving through brightly lit casinos then escaping the smoke and din to navigate our way through the crowds of tourists and drag queens, housewives and hustlers. We stop and try on inappropriate clothes and jewelry we can’t afford.
We find Secret Pizza, a joint unadvertised and unmarked, down a mundane tiled hallway and enjoy a holiday slice. We visit Bodies: The Exhibition, because nothing says Merry Christmas like an educational showcase of 13 preserved and flayed cadavers and more than 260 organs and body parts.
We plan Christmas dinner with care, having pored over the virtually endless list of award-winning restaurants Sin City has to offer. We choose Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill for its ambiance, its vast and inventive menu, and because we know we can toast our anti-Christmas Vegas adventure with a Lychee Martini.
In 48 hours we rekindle our mutual girl crushes, laugh until we attract undue attention, consume more food than would seem possible for two smallish midlife women, and together thumb our noses at a traditional Christmas celebration.
Still, the memory that lingers is sharing an unconventional Christmas dinner, beginning with that one inimitable cocktail, the Lychee Martini – a drink that, like two best friends, turns tradition on its ear.