Jewish people don’t hate Christmas. We exchange gifts with Christian friends, go to Christmas parties when invited and watch Christmas movies. I know all the Christmas songs and carols.
But that’s as far as it goes for most Jews. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are big voids in my calendar. There’s not much to do.
Some years, Christmas overlaps with the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, but that involves a five-minute ritual of lighting candles on a menorah, which is an eight-branch candelabra.
So, what do we do on Christmas?
While visions of sugar-plums may be dancing in your head, we’re slathering plum sauce on spring rolls. As you carve your turkey, we’ll be passing around the lo mein. Some of you will be leaving milk and cookies for Santa but we’re breaking open our fortune cookies. The rumours are true, Chinese restaurants are packed with Jews on Christmas. In fact, you better make a reservation, or you may have a long wait for a table.
Why Chinese food? Well, for one thing, they are one of the few restaurants open on the holiday. But Jews fell in love with Chinese food long ago. In many cities with large Jewish populations, like New York and Toronto, Chinese and Jewish immigrants settled in adjoining neighbourhoods. We became curious about their strange cuisine. The weird looking knishes and the sweet and sour sauce. Over time it became one of our traditions.
The atmosphere in Chinese restaurants on Christmas is somewhere between organized chaos and pandemonium. Servers are rushing out with trays of food, but they can’t keep up with demand. Everyone is talking over people at their table and the decibel level in the room is so loud that I have considered bringing hearing protection. Some guy is chewing out his server because allegedly the shrimp count in his kung pao shrimp dish is low. His kids are throwing noodles at each other.
That’s not the end of the Jewish Christmas experience. You can head home to watch TV which you can do on any evening of the year. Or hit the latest December releases in the theatres. Eating out is on Christmas can be challenging and going to the movies is more of the same.
I might arrive at the theatre with tickets in hand 45 minutes before the show starts. Maybe 20 people in line in front of me. I know the theatre holds about 400 people so I’m all but guaranteed a decent seat. So, I think. I’m chatting with my wife to kill time when I realize the line in front of me is growing as quickly as the line behind me. People are showing up and jumping the queue by joining friends, relatives and long-lost acquaintances.
You’ve heard of the theory behind six degrees of separation? Where all people are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other. In the Jewish community it’s not even six. More like three. A lady in front of me is letting in her cousins, they in turn are letting in three neighbours, who run into parents of a friend of their son. Isn’t that Sharon from the gym? Before long there are at least 100 people in front of me.
Finally, we are allowed into the theatre. I rush in to ensure we still can get decent seats. What do I find? Entire rows being saved by seat barracudas. I try to sit down in what I think is a vacant seat and am verbally assaulted by a Botox-injected, livid woman with soy sauce stains on her blouse.
“You can’t sit here. There seats are saved for some friends.”
“Eights seats? Where are your friends?”
“They are getting popcorn.”
Yes, even the people behind me in line are getting better seats than me. We finally find two seats in the second row. The trailer starts but I can’t get into them because everyone around me continues to talk. The featured film begins and….they’re still f***ing talking!
I’m getting a multi-channel commentary on the movie. The guy next to my wife is crunching his popcorn so loud that our seats are vibrating. A woman behind me is describing to a friend how inappropriate the female lead is for the role. Distractions are coming from everywhere. I try to shush a few people, but I’m ignored. At one point I turn around to tell someone to be quiet. The response: “What’s your problem?”
Each year at the end of the evening I swear I’m going to spend next Christmas in Florida.