Chow Bella's Second Annual Eating Christmas

For the second year, Chow Bella is hosting “Eating Christmas,” during which some of our favorite writers (and artists) will read pieces about food and the holidays. Join us at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 17, at Crescent Ballroom, 308 North Second Avenue. Admission is free, but we’d love it if you’d bring canned goods to benefit St. Mary’s Food Bank. Here are three of the pieces that will be read; check Chow Bella for more.

Unwanted by Julie Peterson

Despite being beloved and spoiled and having found a way to do just about everything I want to, I occasionally lapse into self-pity about how rarely I "get what I want." This is ridiculous, of course. Even having the luxury to think about what I want instead of struggling for what I need puts me so far up Maslow's hierarchy that I should suffer from constant vertigo. It's fairly dysfunctional to think you're deprived when you really aren't . . . but I know I'm not the only one.

Not "getting" to have relationships with particular people should not count, I tell myself — those people are free adults with rights and, despite their abundant charms, don't exist to be won and possessed any more than I do. And if I want a particular job or skill or vacation or a muscle car or something like that, it's really up to me: my personality, my metabolism, and what I'm willing to bring to the table. I know this.

Brandon Huigens
Brandon Huigens

But let's say you thoughtfully ask me what I want for Christmas and I thoughtfully give you a range of options, including "a slab or two of English toffee from such-and-such a shop," and you present me with a box of cat-turd-shaped faux Almond Roca from some other local chocolatier. It is awful.

I love you, the giver, no less, but my inner diva is raging. Why did you even ask? Now, even I know that what I want is not always convenient. I don't want anyone to stress out or lose sleep finding it. I like surprises. I would adore getting no gift at all and simply enjoying your company. What I hate, far more than is reasonable, is getting what I specifically do not want. Especially after I've gone the extra mile and told you. (Because expecting you to magically know without being told is, after all, my preference.)

I also hate delicious homemade sugar cookies that have been decorated until you can't taste them anymore. But, more than anything I've already mentioned, I really, really hate hot ham. I like ham in a sandwich — a cold sandwich — and that's about it. The color, the texture: Ham, you are not an entrée. Being a married person with two places to eat Christmas dinner and, typically, having spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with the ham-lovin' side, it's been completely logical to skip Ham House and stop by later for dessert and parlor games, generally the best part of the entire holiday anyway.

This year, though, we have the most wonderful new Jewish nephew-in-law who will be visiting from out of town. He loves Christmas trees. He loves ham, and he has come to terms with the unholy volume of gifts received by his bride, our baby, our pet. (I was her predecessor in the role, and I still get far too many gifts.) I will almost undoubtedly attend dinner at Ham House. Maybe I will drink my entrée and bring my own damn cookies. Because getting what you didn't even know you wanted can actually be pretty great.

Merry Christmas! by Eric Schaefer

Merry Christmas! Not "happy holidays" or "happy Chanukah" or "happy Kwanzaa" or even "happy Festivus." As a self-proclaimed Jewish Atheist Buddhist, even I can accept the fact that Christmas is the superior holiday. I'm a devout nonbeliever. I don't really care whether Jesus is the reason for the season, but I do acknowledge that it's hard not to feel good when Christmas is upon us. I'm the last guy to get offended when someone wishes me a "Merry Christmas." I embrace it!

But as a Jewish kid growing up in America's heartland, my take on Christmas was somewhat skewed. We, like most other reform Jews that we knew, celebrated Christmas. Chanukah, too, but Christmas was the big one. I may have been going to Hebrew school to study for my Bar Mitzvah, but we still had a Christmas tree, wreaths on the front door, and boxes full of ornaments that were stored in the attic. We left cookies for Santa, had stockings that hung on the mantle, and opened what seemed like a mountain of presents on Christmas Day. Some of this my wife didn't even know until reading this; she's now convinced that I'm not really a Jew.

Perhaps I'm complicit in the secularization of Christmas, but, to me, it had nothing to with religion. The 25th of December was a great day to be a kid, and some of my most vivid childhood memories involved poking around the house with my sister trying to find out where my parents were hiding the presents. What's not to love about Christmas? At least in the suburbs of St. Louis, all our Jewish friends did it.

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