So, it's almost Chinese Food Day again (also known as December 25). While most Americans will be celebrating with their families, many of us will be going to the movies and eating Chinese food. Yes, it's cliché, but it is what it is. I don't know what movie I'm going to see tomorrow, so I am open to any suggestions people might have (I just saw The Hobbit on Sunday night, though). I do know, however, that I'll be eating Chinese food, although somewhat complicated by the fact that the Chinese place I usually eat out in has apparently closed.
This, ironically, is also a time for me to be thankful to be an American. This is a country where I can openly practice my religion and embrace my culture. I am free to be a Jew and do not have to worry about whether the government will decide it's a good time to stir up some violence against me. I don't have to worry about being consigned to the ghetto or the shtetl. I'm free to go to see the movie I want to see and eat the Chinese food I want. Those actions might seem irrelevant, but they mean that I am free to embrace my Jewishness.
As Marc Tracy writes of our Christmas traditions in The New Republic:
So what I’m dreaming of is a truly Jewish Christmas, a day on which most American Jews never feel more Jewish, and never understand more clearly why their Jewishness is important to them. A day on which we derive more enjoyment—schep more naches, if you will—from standing apart than from blending in; from being unconventional, not conventional. Helpfully, unlike living in ghettos, Christmas is voluntary and, as the saying goes, only comes once a year.Also writing in Tablet Magazine, Tracy further expounds about our experiences with chicken soup with kreplach (for what it's worth, I actually don't like wonton soup — I much prefer egg drop soup):
For American Jews, Christmas is a day to wallow in difference without being threatened. At its worst, such an identity-holiday can be a theme-park ride, a shallow and consumerist experience—which, ironically, is exactly what many devout Christians fear the day has become. But with a little work, it can be much more meaningful. As American Jews recline in their seats at the cinema, awaiting the previews, mourning their decision to eat those extra two egg rolls, they can find themselves reflecting not just on the fact of their difference, but on the substance of it, and what about it they treasure. It’s almost religious.
Whether they have fully thought it through or not, Jews who eat Chinese food on Christmas are proclaiming that, for them, Jewishness is what philosophers call a second-order value. In contrast to valuing Judaism on the first order—enjoying the rituals themselves, sincerely adhering to the tenets themselves—they value the fact of their Jewishness. They go out of their way to do it. They may or may not enjoy General Tso’s Chicken, but if they are eating it on Christmas, their prime motivation is not the general’s sweet, spicy deliciousness, but rather the knowledge that they are doing something that in some adapted way reinforces their Jewishness. They are moved by their hearts, not their tastebuds.So, yes, as odd as it might seem, this is a way for us to embrace our Jewishness. We embrace the fact that we are unique and we are different. We embrace the fact that while December 25 is just another day of the year for us, yet it also different and a time to embrace the fact that we are different.
To my fellow Jews, Happy Chinese Food Day! To those celebrating that other holiday, Merry Christmas.