It isn’t easy to give up a tradition.
No one wants to be the one to say, “how about we skip our usual tradition” – because, well, it’s tradition.
But this year, when it came to my family’s Jewmas ritual, I had to speak up. It was time to take a hiatus.
Presents. Movies. Chinese food. We’ve been doing the same thing for so many years that no one dared to ask, “Do we like doing this?”
We love being together, yes. Family, friends, yes. Yay.
But since my sister and husband were staying in LA with their new baby, things would be different anyway. So it seemed like the right year for a few modifications.
Normally, at my parents’ Upper West Side apartment, the gifts are piled high under the Steinway grand piano. The stockings are propped against the media cabinet with care. Appropriate, since the media cabinet is built into the space where the fake fireplace used to be.
Once we’re all gathered on the modular sofa, we empty our stuffed-to-bursting stockings, exclaiming over the items. “Oooh, gummi bears.” “Oooh, money!” “Yay! A Sephora gift card! Thank you Mom, I mean Santa!”
When everyone has gotten to the clementine tangerine at the bottom of the stocking, we move on to the wrapped gifts. My sister and I take turns playing Santa, picking up presents one by one and reading the tag or sticky label out loud.
ME: “This one’s to Mom from Dad. And this one is to Marian from me.”
DAD: “Laura, can you repeat please? Who is the first one from?”
ME: “It’s from you, Dad.”
DAD: “To whom?”
ME: “To Mom, Dad.”
DAD: “OK. Please read them so we can all hear.”
That goes on for about an hour, hour and a half. Then, we clean up the carnage of torn wrapping and ribbons and unneeded boxes, and scoop our loot into shopping bags to take home.
It’s nice to give presents, and who doesn’t like to get them? Especially generous ones like my parents give. But this is all just too much STUFF.
So this year, we went with one present each. It was delightful.
Even more refreshing? Skipping the part that always comes next.
If you’ve never been to a Christmas Day movie on the Upper West Side, take my word for it: there isn’t a more unpleasant moviegoing experience to be had. If you like popcorn, soda, and suffering, Loews Lincoln Square 13 on December 25th is IT. The place to be.
The people swarming around broken ticket kiosks, swiping their credit cards over and over; the pushy, anxious schleppers racing each other to the escalators and arguing over who cut the line; it’s like the 9th level of hell.
Except in hell, no one is trying to save a row of 12 seats.
You need a whole system.
Who’s going to wait for our friends down in the lobby? Who’s going to line up outside theater two upstairs and make sure we get first crack at the seats? Do we have enough coats and hats and scarves to put on the seats? Can we get the people in this row to move down one seat so we have enough? No, we can’t because they won’t, just out of principle. They say they need those exact seats and that we’re saving seats “to the detriment of everyone else.”
OK then, someone grab two rows upstairs in the mezzanine. Quick!
After the movie, where are we meeting? By the pillar? Outside? Which exit? Where’s Dad – bathroom? No, still inside watching the credits. Scanning for Jews. Mom and I are going upstairs to use the bathroom on the IMAX floor, because no one knows about it.
One person’s outside having a cigarette. Two people already headed back to the apartment. Are they walking or cabbing? Do they have the key?
All that, and the movie is almost never any good. Or, it’s totally Christmas-inappropriate. It’s either something like Charlie Wilson’s War (eh) or The Woodsman (Kevin Bacon as a registered sex offender).
Sure, I missed some parts of our movie ritual: watching together in a group of my favorite people, mixing popcorn with the chocolate-covered raisins from our stockings, and of course, getting shushed by grumpy seniors.
Still, eighty-sixing this step was a huge relief.
So what did we do about dinner?
No, no Chinese food this year. No Vietnamese, no Thai, no sushi. No Asian fusion. Nothing against those; they’re a staple of my diet. But the whole exercise of coming back from the movie, passing around a folder full of takeout menus and getting a consensus didn’t appeal.
So instead of dinner, we did brunch. Bagels and lox and whitefish salad. It’s the same exact brunch we always have at my parents’, but because it was on Christmas, it felt wild and adventurous.
Also, way less bloating than moo shu pork. Even though a bagel is like three pieces of bread.
Everyone has things they do a certain way just because that’s the way they’ve always done them. It pays to reevaluate once in a while and ask, “do I feel like doing it this way?” And if the answer is no, I’m over it, then do something else.
Especially if we’re talking about Loews Lincoln Square.
I would have paid a lot of cash to witness Victoria telling that to the Chabad wagon people!
Laura Belgray says
It was actually my dad who said that!
CHASIDIC BOY: Excuse me sir, are you Jewish? Are you Jewish?
DAD: Uh…no. Are you?
CHASIDIC BOY: Yes sir, I am.
DAD: You look it!
Alice B says
This past Christmas was lovely, except for the absence of our West Coast family and more friends around. Glad we had Skype to fill in. Didn’t miss the Loew’s havoc or the frantic race to fill stockings with ever increasing creative (and expensive) needs. Lots of favorite memories: 1) Victoria telling the Chabad wagon proselytizers that she wasn’t Jewish; 2) shrill women at Loew’s saying we couldn’t’ save all those seats (“just who did we think we were, anyway?”) 3) Sarah’s fantastic creations, and 4) more and more. Loved your post. Love you.
Laura Belgray says
Aw. I forgot to respond to this. Love you too, Mom.
Those are some excellent moments, except you got one wrong. See reply to Leslie.
Kate Moller says
Love this post about breaking tradition. My family always does a movie on xmas as well, even though we’e technically Christian…but this year we opted for astrology, lat-night chatting, poetry and tarot cards. Fine Pagan family fun!
Laura Belgray says
Yay Paganism. I’m going to motion that next year my family do a voodoo christmas, and pull out the beating heart of an elf.
Thanks Laura – I was feeling kind of melancholy this year about NOT being on the Upper West Side for movie and chinese food – Now I feel so much better!
Way more civilized here in Baltimore… although, to be honest, I haven’t seen a movie on Christmas since my kids were born – how sad is that?
Still, I’d forgotten how insane that scene is…
The thing about living in a different city on holidays is that you are free from the pressure to partake in family traditions – but crushed by the pressure to create new ones…We go see these amazing Christmas lights in Baltimore’s version of the east village – but we still can’t shake the Chinese food! Old habits die hard…
Can’t wait to see you!!
Laura Belgray says
If we were in Baltimore, I’d totally be game for a movie on Christmas. Once the kids are older, you can enjoy showing up at the theater just as the movie’s starting and getting seats for everyone — a luxury I’ve never experienced, but I’ve heard tell.
Can’t wait to see you, either!
Marian Belgray says
Haha, I remember the huge debate we had over whether The Woodsman would be too depressing. I think we decided it would be no less appropriate than all the Holocaust movies we flocked to in years past.
The best part of Jewmas movie hell: waiting in the exhaustive bathroom line, hearing loud seniors in front of us discuss the ending of the movie we didn’t see (but were planning to see before they ruined it for us).
Gotta say, you kinda made me miss some of our traditions. Maybe it’s because I was in L.A. this year, where people stay home and eat Tofurkey.
Laura Belgray says
It’s true, the only movie that might be totally inappropriate is a nazi child molester movie.
Those f*ckin’ seniors. But I guess I’d take Loews over Tofurkey.
I didn’t miss our traditions this year, but I missed you!