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What to Do on Christmas Day Besides Eat Chinese Food

Growing up we never had a Christmas tree, a wreath on the door, baked ham on the table or any recognition of the Christian holiday that takes much of the world by storm on December 25th, even though most of our city was Catholic. New Orleans’ colonial history of the French and Spanish settlement along with the later 19th and 20th-century immigration by the Irish, Italians and Germans established a strong Catholic foundation that influenced everything the city did, including Mardi Gras.

On Friday nights, when as a family we were supposed to be eating kosher roast chicken, our quasi-orthodox Jewish mother would make a spread of fresh boiled seafood just like the Catholic families, and then lay a lot of guilt on all of us for eating “treif” (non-kosher food). One Christmas Day, my sister hosted a party for all of her Jewish friends at her home and served up a “HoneyBaked Ham” — which got scarfed up while my mother was intensely embarrassed for it being on the table. (Meanwhile, her favorite sandwich was a “B-L-and T” — Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato. Go figure.)

The point is that as a result, we just don’t know what to do with ourselves on Christmas except for one thing: go to a movie and then go out for Chinese food. Living in Paris hasn’t changed that tradition one bit, either.

While Catholic families are gathered at the table for their roasted ham (maybe not a HoneyBaked here in France, but a Jambon de Bayonne instead), decorating their Christmas trees, laying gifts under them and singing carols, we’re making reservations and deciding which movie to see.

Much has been written about this, and even immortalized by Justice Elena Kagan’s 2010 confirmation hearing when “Senator Lindsey Graham paused to ask Kagan where she had spent the previous Christmas. To great laughter, she replied: ‘You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.’ See it for yourself.

It all started in the Lower East Side of New York where Jews and Chinese lived side-by-side — the two largest non-Christian ethnic groups at the turn of the century. The Chinese restaurants were open, of course, as they are on Sundays and holidays, and to add to the explanation, Chinese food uses no dairy (unlike French!), so, it’s as close to kosher as it gets. Now, it’s more than just a tradition…it’s as much a part of Christmas Day as opening gifts.

There will be only a couple of Jews in my own party headed to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 3D and then to my favorite Asian restaurant Lao Siam in Belleville (49, rue de Belleville, 19th, 01 40 40 09 68) — the rest are Christian at least, but getting in the spirit anyway.

This does not mean this is the only thing to do in Paris on Christmas Day! If I didn’t have this tradition, I’d be taking advantage of…

* Ice skating on one of the many rinks…

* Strolling along the Christmas Market on the Champs-Elysées…

* Riding on a carousel…

* Perusing the window displays at the Grands Magazins…

* Sipping on a hot chocolate at Angelina

* Or a Vin Chaud…

* Shopping during the new unusual hours…

* Taking a tour of the Christmas lights…

* Attending Christmas mass at Notre Dame

* And just hanging out in the City of Light.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group

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P.S. Is writing in your blood, like it is mine? My friend, Janet Hulstrand, has just announced another “Writing from the Heart…in the Heart of France” workshop for this coming April. Enrollment is limited, so get all the details on our Writing from the Heart page and start making your plans to attend today!


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