Like most regional ethnic groups, the New York Jewish people have their own special holiday traditions. For Christmas, we eat Chinese food and watch Jewish movies. Chinese food because the Chinese restaurants are open and uncrowded. Jewish movies because the Jewish movies make us feel like we are the stars of the day.
Some of my Christmas-observing friends think this is a sad way to spend the “best” day of the year. It is not. Despite the sensory overload of the season, I do not feel left out of the festivities and I enjoy the solidarity of sharing the day with people who believe as I do.
Christmas arrived shortly after we moved to Palo Alto. We ate Chinese at the Su Hong and saw The Garden of the Finzi-Continis at the Guild, both nearby in Menlo Park. The restaurant and the theater were mostly empty, but still, it was comforting to keep the tradition alive and know that most of the other patrons were probably landesman “celebrating” the holiday in the familiar fashion.
The next Christmas, having spent a year in California, we were more assimilated. We went mainstream, driving to the mega-plex to watch Titanic. We planned to see the earliest show, but when we arrived, the place was positively jam-packed with people, the majority of whom were clearly not like-minded Jews.
Apparently, people of all faiths need to get out of the house after a few hours with the relations.
Anyway, the matinee was sold out so we got tickets for a later show and took the car to find a Chinese lunch spot. Except we didn’t. Find any Chinese food. The only restaurant open for business was the always open Denny’s, where they didn’t even serve any faux-Chinese food like “Chinese chicken salad” or “Asian stir-fry”. All in all, it was a very goyishe Christmas.
The next year, we felt a desperate need to return to our roots so we got tickets to Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in San Francisco, advertised as “Jewish comedy in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas”. It sounded perfect. The surprise headline performer turned out to be Margaret Cho. Alas, her style lacked that, umm, Hebraic sensibility.
Each year, we tried a different approach, never quite recapturing that old heymishe feeling. One year, we went to the JCC. They didn’t have enough Chinese food for everyone — who ever heard a Jewish affair should run out of food? A shandeh! And if that wasn’t enough already, the projector failed in the middle of the Israeli film — alright, we all know a Jewish gathering where everyone can tell you how to fix whatever is broken but no one has any practical experience handling a screwdriver.
Perhaps no matter your heritage, no matter the holiday, things never turn out quite the way you remember. But what could possibly be better than a new story (and a chance to kvetch a little besides)?
© 2015 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.