Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Chinese Food and a Movie, Anyone?

I have wonderful memories of Christmas. Given the fact that I am a non-Christian attempting to avoid all of the commercial trappings of the season, one might find this statement to be odd at best, but I truly do have wonderful childhood memories of Christmas' past. Most people know how Jews spend Christmas. We head out for Chinese food. There is a historical basis for this tradition. Firstly, we Jews really do know great Chinese food (a cultural stereotype that I am more than willing to embrace). Secondly, for many years it was all that we could find open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. There was a time in my life when most proprietors of Asian restaurants were also non-Christians, so remaining open over the 24 hours of Christmas boredom was non-invasive. So, head out to any Asian restaurant tonight or tomorrow and you will most probably find the establishment packed to the walls with Jews. Growing up in Toronto meant an almost infinite number of restaurant choices, given our extensive Asian population, but the customer base was invariably the same on Christmas-Jews. But my memories of Christmas and Chinese food extends a bit deeper than most of my landsmen. 

My mother is a nurse and throughout much of my childhood, she worked on a post-surgical floor in a hospital nearby. Unlike many professions, hospital staff must work throughout the holidays. In my mom's day, nurses were given the option of working either Christmas or New Years. (for double time and half, no less!) Being one of only a handful of Jewish nurses on the floor, it was a no-brainer that Mom would volunteer to work the 24th and 25th. Her co-workers were immensely grateful, as at least one of them would be spared having to work through his or her holy day. She would often work the evening shifts-3 pm until midnight- and as such, she left the Little Bro and I in the somewhat capable hands of my father. Not usually an issue, except that when it comes to cooking, Dad is a bit of a lost soul. He can make a mean omelet and can pour a bowl of cereal with the best of them, but as a cook he is a terrific cleaner. We were not a restaurant going family the rest of the year, but every Christmas Eve Dad would splurge and off we went to Spring Garden Chinese Restaurant at Yonge and Finch. (I also have a vague memory of the Sea Hi on Bathurst once or twice as well!) After dinner, the three of us would head off to a movie, (whatever was playing at the Willow or Fairview that might be age appropriate) and then home to wait up for Mom. 

Now this might sound like a very benign memory in the grand scheme of childhood recollections, but it was a big deal for me. It was one of the few times that I can actually remember special time with just the three of us. Dad would make a big deal out of how it was our own special tradition. (Of course, years later I discovered that most Jews have Chinese cuisine for Christmas, but that is truly beside the point!) He planned it and he made a concerted effort to continue it long after Mom stopped working and she rejoined the party. This time was special Father/Kid time and I will forever cherish it. This afternoon, as we were all attempting to figure out something to occupy us this Christmas, Dad mentioned Chinese food and a movie. I think that both of our palates and stomachs have probably moved on past Chinese food. Maybe, sushi and Thai? Tomorrow? What do you think, Dad?

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