Christmas dinner

From Janis Ian’s blog, passed on to me on Facebook by John Lawler on the 14th:

Taijitu meets Magen David, oh happy day.

The handmade sign purporting to be from an official national organization that you’ve never heard of should set off suspicions, and the Snopes site treats the thing as Undetermined as to truth, but likely to be based on a cartoon by playwright David Mamet in the on-line magazine Tablet for 12/22/10:

No one has yet found evidence of the existence of the CRAUS.

Behind the cartoon lies the stereotype of Jews as patronizing Chinese restaurants on Christmas (a holiday celebrated by neither the proprietors nor the patrons, as Snopes observes), and the stereotype comes from the fact that in a great many places Chinese restaurants were among the very few businesses open on Christmas.

(The other major option for going out for meals on Christmas is hotels, almost all of which feel obliged to provide travelers with meals even on holidays.)

As I’ve noted in this blog in earlier years, it has been my custom for some time to have dinner — a midday meal — on Christmas (and Thanksgiving, and other holidays) at Tai Pan, the local Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant, which is open every day of the year, including holidays, for lunch (and dim sum) and dinner — and which is just wonderful. Usually this is a family affair (as it will be this year), sometimes taking in friends as well as me, my daughter, son-in-law, and grand-daughter. Sometimes it’s been just me and a friend. Sometimes I’ve been alone, but still in a familiar and welcoming place.

On Thanksgiving this year I hadn’t been out of the hospital long enough to manage a meal out, but Ned Deily went and got take-out for the two of us, one of our favorite lunches from Tai Pan:

Vermicelli Singapore Style [that’s “Chinese vermicelli” — bean thread — prepared with shrimp and a light curry sauce]

Crunchy String Beans with Minced Pork

We hadn’t had this meal in a long time, and it struck us both as good enough to weep with pleasure over. Not just very good food, but a crucial piece of return to normal life.

14 Responses to “Christmas dinner”

  1. Gary Says:

    It works both ways. You can walk into any restaurant in New York on any of the high holy days and get a table immediately.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Hmmm… *any* restaurant? Including the classic Italian family restaurants in largely Italian areas of town?

      It might be that Jews eat out more non-Jews (surely somone has looked at this?), which would give some basis for a high holy days effect.

  2. Julian Lander Says:

    Another reason for the Jews-eat-Chinese-food-on-Christmas thing may be that, while Chinese food is exotic, it doesn’t violate the Jewish custom of not mixing meat and dairy. I realize that Chinese restaurants aren’t kosher (there are some that are, but I’m talking about the vast majority), but, even though I don’t keep kosher and grew up in a non-kosher home, I still don’t like cream sauces on meat. It’s not a combination I grew up with, so it seems strange to me. For that reason, some European cuisinces are hard for me to get used to, especially French. But since Chinese food, at least as we know it here, doesn’t typically use dairy, that sensibility is not violated.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Nice point. You’re not at all alone in this; Chinese food has its pork and shellfish (though there’s a joking “Chinese food” exemption for these for some Jews; David Rakoff wrote a wonderful piece on the topic), but meat with cream sauces really does seem alien.

  3. mae Says:

    There’s an extensive literature on Jews and Chinese food, including on Christmas. In the 1920s the habit of Jews going to Chinese restaurants was considered to be a problem — one Yiddish newspaper ran an article asking who won the war between chop suey and gefilte fish.

    There’s even a special song about Chinese food on Christmas:

  4. arnold zwicky Says:

    Lovely. Thank you.

  5. jbl Says:

    Some friends and I have another tradition for Christmas: a bagels and lox breakfast. This does require a bit more forethought than the Chinese restaurant. However, it was more convenient, since I often would go work someone’s shift for the day. This is still the best tradition for us, as we have the local Chinese restaurant.

    This was not always the case; I do remember occasional Chinese dinners on Christmas, which included a free mai tai.

    Off-topic: my favorite Massachusetts Chinese restaurant claimed the only holiday they were closed for was Thanksgiving, primarily because they had no turkey in their cuisine or on the menu.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Actually, the bagels and lox breakfast used to be a tradition at Ramona St., since we had an ace bagel bakery just a block away (in a spot that has been many things and is now Coconuts Caribbean restaurant); you had to think ahead for the lox etc., but the bagels were fantastic (except of course when Christmas came on a Saturday). It seemed so *civilized*.

  6. John Lawler Says:

    One cannot, of course, ignore the traditional version enshrined in popular American culture by this scene from A Christmas Story, which even contains some appropriate LOLphonology.

  7. Nancy Friedman (@Fritinancy) Says:

    Isn’t that *Santa* CRAUS?

  8. bratschegirl Says:

    And let us not forget SF’s “Kung Pao Kosher Comedy.”

  9. fermata Says:

    I’ve griped about the fact that Christmas-celebrants no longer seem to spend the entire day wrapped in the warmth of home and family. Used to be I could enjoy empty, quiet streets and relatively light crowds for movies and Chinese food dinner. I dropped that tradition about 10 years ago. Now, Christmas Day is among the busiest if you want to catch a movie and chow mein. I dunno if modern-day Christmasers don’t enjoy time with their families so much, have gotten less creative about keeping occupied happily at home, or just feel like it’s over once the presents are unwrapped. As for me, I’ll be staying home and keeping one last tradition, which is watching the Last Temptation of Christ on Christmas night.

  10. God’s preferred languages « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the famous Chinese Exception to the Jewish dietary restrictions: pork and shellfish don’t count in Chinese […]

Leave a Reply


%d bloggers like this: