Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chinese Food and a Movie

Here’s something that always really got to me as a child: not celebrating Christmas. I’m Jewish, so I celebrate Hanukkah instead. Sure, I loved the eight nights of presents, but I was always jealous of my best friend’s Christmas tree, Christmas lights, and her trips to visit Santa at the mall. I used to go over to my best friend’s house on Christmas day and stare longingly at her stocking hanging by the fireplace, her beautiful tree with all the shiny ornaments, and her piles of unwrapped gifts. She, in turn, of course, would visit my house for a night of Hanukkah, and would complain that I got to have eight nights of gifts, as opposed to her one day. Still, I wanted those Christmas traditions so badly: my sister and I begged our parents for a Hanukkah tree or at least for some Hanukkah lights on the house, and my mom used to tell us when we grew up we could do whatever we wanted to celebrate the holidays, but that she was not caving into our demands.

Here’s what we got instead: Chinese food and a movie. See, every Christmas day, my parents, my sister, and I would go to the movies in the afternoon and then get Chinese food for dinner. Usually, some of the best movies of the year open on Christmas Day, so this actually really was a treat, and it was also one of the only times that the four of us went to a movie together. Afterwards, we’d follow it up with Wonton soup and sweet and sour chicken at the always surprisingly crowded Chinese restaurant.

However, despite all our yearning for Christmas traditions, we also loved Hanukkah, and we had two very small traditions of our own. First, my sister and I had a strict schedule of alternating nights, for who got to pick the color of the candles and light the Menorah. (Thank goodness there are an even number of nights!) Then after lighting the candles and before opening the presents, we would sing the now decidedly infamous and totally unreligious “Dreidel Song” as fast as we could. (Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay. . .) I’m not sure where that came from, and I am positive it has no religious roots, because I’ve yet to meet anyone else who does this.

A few years back, the first time my husband and I celebrated Hanukkah with kids, I burst into the Dreidel song as I “lit” (well plugged in really – it’s electric) my menorah. My husband gave me a weird look, and said that what you are supposed to sing is the Hanukkah prayer. (A prayer – who knew?) He tried to teach it to me, even writing it out phonetically, so I could attempt to learn the Hebrew words. Since then, our tradition is to sing both the Dreidel song and the Hebrew prayer (and for my husband to make fun of me as I butcher the words!) before we open presents.

Still, my favorite holiday tradition was definitely the Christmas day movie and Chinese food (cinema and food – what beats that?), and when my kids get of movie-theater going age, it’s something I’d like to continue with them. Family togetherness and sharing in a good meal, probably about as much Christmas spirit as you can get without the tree, the ornaments, and the lights.

Happy Holidays!


Maureen Lipinski said...

As I'm in the midst of mass chaos on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I'll often enviously think of my Jewish friends, louging around, eating crab rangoon and seeing the latest and greatest movie.

Because? When I'm rushing through the cold and ice to get from church to home to Aunt Dottie's house, a movie and lo mein sound awesome.

Rachel Cantor said...

I think the dreidel tradition came about because one year we thought we should sing a song for Hanukkah and that was the only one we knew and most importantly the quickest one so we could get to our presents faster:-) and if I remember correctly we eyed the presents on the table all day trying to guess what they were ( and would poke at them when mom and dad weren't looking!!!) All in an attempt to figure out which one we should open that night-- sundown never came fast enough!

Jillian Cantor said...

Maureen, And I always thought that chaos would be so much fun! I guess the grass is always greener, huh?

Rach -- you have a better memory than I do. Although, I do remember that we sang it as fast as we could to get to the presents!

lisapatton said...

Jill, I may have had Christmas trees in my house but I lived right next door to a Jewish family and they invited me over quite often to participate in the lighting of their menorah. I was so so jealous of the eight days of presents. Still am!!