Wednesday, December 10, 2014

holiday, oh, holiday and the best one of the year

It's time once again for the big, year-end, holidays. Everyone (well, almost everyone) is celebrating something. Most people will be observing some level of Christmas. A little over five million people will be lighting some sort of menorah in celebration of Chanukah (or Hanukkah or Chanukkah or Chhannnukkkkah or whatever). After the Christmas and Chanukah festivities have ended and all the dreidels have been packed away and the Christmas trees have been kicked to the curb, some people will be celebrating Kwanzaa. (Unclear estimates put that number anywhere between two and thirty million.) Muslims already had their traditional festival in the summer, as Ramadan and Eid-al-Fatr both fell in July.

Last weekend, Mrs. Pincus and I experienced the two extremes of the holiday season within a few hours of each other. In the afternoon, we joined my son and his girlfriend for the 12th Annual "LatkePalooza" held at a downtown Philadelphia Jewish community center. The event was sold out. I didn't even know that eleven similar events had preceded this one. For fifteen bucks, attendees clamored to sample latkes (fried potato pancakes, traditionally served on Chanukah) offered by a dozen different area restaurants. Some of the sizzling goodies were pretty average, not able to hold a shamash to my mother-in-law's version. Others, however, like the lox and pickled beet-topped morsels served by Philadelphia newcomer Abe Fisher were a delight. The Cajun spin from Catahoula was delicious as well, although the spicy apple sauce topping was a bit too much for Mrs. P's palette. The event was supplemented by a four-piece band playing family-oriented songs (with a few holiday-appropriate tunes sprinkled in the mix) and an awkward magician who was unable to hold anyone's interest. We observed a number of restaurants packing up their equipment well-before the 4 PM closing time. It seemed that the attendees descended upon the latkes with the efficiency of a swarm of locusts, wiping out the surplus in just forty minutes. The vendors appeared pleased with the prospect of an early exit. 

"They won't revoke my
synagogue membership
for this, will they?"
With the room nearly empty, we, too, exited and made our way to our next destination - a Christmas tree decorating party. (I was later informed that it was not a "party," but instead, should be referred to as a "spire." When I questioned the term "spire" in reference to an intimate get-together, I was told in the original text message it was actually a "soire," but auto-correct changed it to "spire." So, it stuck.) Our pal Kathy asked a select few of her "inner circle" to, essentially, come over and decorate her tree while she watched. Having never had the opportunity to decorate a Christmas tree in my Jewish household or among my Jewish friends, I watched as well. Mrs. P, whose family's Jewishness outranks me in spades, took a front-row seat for the activity, as she nursed a glass of sparkling cider. As the only Jews in a roomful of long-time Christmas celebrants, we were warmly received and the overall tone of the evening was one of snarky joviality. After a while, Mrs. P bravely joined another guest in adorning the tree when a "Gone with the Wind" ornament was produced from the packed box of decorations. My wife's favorite film is the epic Civil War tale and she knew she'd probably never get this opportunity again. Afterwards, everyone dined on a delicious, serve-yourself meal of homemade chili and a vegetarian-friendly corn soup. There was a miscommunication when we questioned the ingredients of the homemade cornbread. The preparer cheerfully rattled off the various components — flour, baking soda, etc. Satisfied, my Kosher-observant wife and my vegetarian self simultaneously popped warm slices into our mouths, when the guest suddenly remembered that she had smeared the pan with bacon grease prior to baking. Mrs. P and I exchanged wide-eyed panicked glances, although we were comforted in the fact that Jews don't acknowledge the existence of Hell and eternal damnation. We get enough guilt from our mothers. We also steered clear of the cornbread for the rest of the night.

As the evening moved on, conversation bounced around, ranging from favorite holiday movies to various and diverse holiday celebrations to convincing me to allow my hair to go back to its natural color, a suggestion I quickly dismissed. Considering that my spouse and I had just met the other guests mere hours earlier, we were as close as childhood friends by evening's end, even hugging when we eventually parted.

Maybe this will become an annual tradition. And depending on when Eid-al-Fatr falls in 2015, perhaps someone will bring a plate of baklava. I don't think there is anything to decorate or light.

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