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Embracing the Cliche: Chinese on Christmas

Celebrating Christmas with Chinese food

Yes, I admit it. My family and I are among those whose observance of Dec. 25 consists of a seasonal movie and Chinese food, at least for the past decade.

Before that, we were part of the seasonal migration of New York Jews who flew to South Florida to visit parents and grandparents and spend Christmas at the beach. By the time my family wasn’t heading to South Florida for the break, we realized that Westchester could be a depressing place for non-Christmas celebrants. Our quiet Ardsley village was even quieter than usual.

Nothing, or practically nothing, was open. When my daughter was in college, there were a few years when the two of us volunteered at The Sharing Community in Yonkers on Christmas morning, to help prepare and serve lunch clients of the soup kitchen there, which was a gratifying experience.  

Doing good felt good. But something was still missing. On the one hand, Christmas was a gift of a holiday. We didn’t have to shop for presents, trim a tree, entertain relatives, or attend religious services. But it also felt like a very long day, when we felt as if we were in limbo or suspended animation, with celebrations going on that clearly excluded us.

Think of it like high school prom night, when everyone in your class has a date and is going out for the evening and after-parties, and you’re at home. It’s not that we wanted to do Christmas, thank you very much. It’s more that we knew there was a party going on somewhere else that wasn’t for us.

Going out for a movie and Chinese food is an appealing alternative to sitting home watching Netflix and eating leftovers. It helps that, like Jews, most Chinese don’t have a Christmas tradition, so we can count on Chinese restaurants being open.

For Marcy Berman of Hastings, who originally embraced the Chinese food-and-a-movie tradition when she lived in California and enjoyed San Francisco’s Chinatown, participating in Chinese food and a movie is a regular event when they’re in town. “There was the year we had dinner at Aberdeen’s on Xmas eve, planning to see a movie afterwards—that was the year we learned that movie theaters do shut down early for Xmas eve,” she said.  Instead of a movie, her family enjoyed bowling.

Brian Schaitkin, whose family is in Chappaqua, said his family “avoids certain movies prior to the appointed day in hopes of preserving some film that will satisfy all four members. Most importantly it is a day Jewish families spend together without the high drama and ritual of Jewish holidays.”

For the past few years, college friends who now live in Rhode Island, and visit parents in Northern Westchester, join us for a movie  (usually at the Greenburgh Multiplex or Hawthorne)and dinner at Hunan Village II in Hartsdale, where we invariably run into other Jewish friends and neighbors. We compare notes about which movies we’ve seen and what dishes we should try. It ends up feeling like a party that belongs to us, which, I suppose, is largely the point.

Another option—for Christmas Eve—is the third annual Westchester Wonton Ball at Greenburgh Hebrew Center (515 Broadway, Dobbs Ferry—914-693-4260: RSVPwonton@g-h-c.org), which starts at 5:45 PM with a Chanukah celebration, followed by dancing and a Chinese buffet, plus latkes. The cost for adults is  $25 in advance ( $30 at the door); for those who just want to dance, it’s $18 in advance ( $23 at the door). Children ages 3-15 are $10 in advance ($15 at the door).

“For the third year now, those of us at GHC have been taking the “Chinese food on Christmas tradition” to a whole new level,” said congregation president Deborah Jagoda. “On Christmas or Christmas Eve, we’ve been getting together for a wonderful “Wonton Ball”, where we eat Chinese food, and have a DJ who leads games and dancing, Bar Mitzvah-style. This year, because Christmas and Channukah come at the same time, in addition to Chinese food, our Wonton Ball will also include traditional Channukah food such as latkes and brisket, and also lighting of Menorahs. The party’s not just for members: people from all over are welcome to come.”

Also, if your Christmas doesn’t include church, opening presents under the tree and family festivities, here are some possibilities for pre- or post-movie dining. 

  • , Ardsley
  • , Dobbs Ferry
  • , Ardsley
  • , Sleepy Hollow
  • , White Plains
  • , White Plains
  • , Pleasantville
  • , Briarcliff Manor

It’s a good idea to call ahead to see about reservations, as places fill fast.

Roberta Roos December 23, 2011 at 12:09 PM
Whenever Christmas and Chanukah coincide (and frequently when they don't)I cook Chinese food for our Chanukah party and, of course, will be doing it this year. Stir-fry is perfect for Chanukah - latkes and jelly donuts are not the only foods that celebrate the "miracle" of oil.
Lizzie Hedrick December 23, 2011 at 01:03 PM
As long as you don't order pork fried rice, the traditions are pretty similar. I mean, Chanukah's all about celebrating oil.

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