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.