If you go

What: Ichiban Japanese RestaurantWhere: 909 Houston Northcutt Blvd., Mount PleasantHours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5-9 p.m., Monday-SaturdayMore info: 849-8121

The best traditions are never the ones intended, the ones that end up being plotted, planned or reconstructed from year to year, Christmas to Christmas. Those outings to unearth the Christmas tree or to hang the greens, or those annual evenings dedicated to assembling gingerbread homes.

No, the greatest traditions are those that grow, those that evolve, those that kind of just happen, those that tend to leave you wondering, ďJust how did this start, anyway?Ē

Each year, it seems, just prior to Christmas, my great-uncle, one of his daughters and I gather for a holiday meal at Ichiban, a casual, hibachi-style Japanese restaurant in the Whole Foods shopping center in Mount Pleasant.

Ichiban opened in 1997, and the restaurant continues to cook up quick and simple teriyaki entrees made up of chicken, fish, steak, scallops and shrimp, as well as spicy variations of the food.

Fifteen years in the restaurant business is no small thing, and Ichibanís longevity and consistency are appreciated, particularly by my great-uncle, who celebrated his 90th birthday in July.

This year, his daughter and I settled into big heaping plates of the chicken and steak (spicy for me, regular for her), covering much of the rice with heavy-handed squeezes from squirt bottles containing Ichibanís thick, buttery white sauce.

As for my great-uncle (once he dutifully greets each of the restaurantís staff and diners), he orders the teriyaki shrimp from the kids menu, his appetite not being what it once was.

But all three of us devotedly clean our plates, wiping clean the remnants, carting away any concerns for takeout containers.

By then, it no longer matters exactly how these meals began, only that we are together and toasting another year with shrimp and steak and rice, and looking forward already to the next year, and the next dishes awaiting us.