This last weekend, I said a decisive “no” to Santa, mince pies, mistletoe, and Christ – and conducted a bold social experiment instead. Over the course of a long weekend trip to Washington DC, I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the sole company of… a jew.* (My wife also answers to the name ‘Jacqueline,’ I admit. For the purpose of what follows, however, that really is nowhere near reductive enough.)
Is it possible under such circumstances to feel in the least bit Christmassy? Would I become objectively less Gentile? And what would Jesus think if he caught me eating General Tso’s chicken instead of a plum festive turkey, and sticky mango rice instead of fruit cake doused in brandy?
The early results were inconclusive. Our drive down from New Jersey was definitely trafficky, but otherwise uneventful. And though I wasn’t detained much by any thoughts of Christmas, I’m pretty sure it was only the intervention of a rumbling stomach, and the rocksteady beat of Messrs. Toots and the Maytals, that kept such thoughts at bay – rather than, say, any newfound urge to seek the counsel of a Rabbi.
Moreover, what unfortunately followed didn’t so much leave me pining for the comforts of a warm Christmas home, but ashen-faced and worried. Worried that this would be the year that greedy seasonal consumption would be mercilessly replaced by the forced evacuation of rotten seafood – ‘thanks’ to the dubious delights of Maryland crab shack Jumbo Jimmy’s, where we parked up for lunch.
Only hindsight tells me now that our worst fears never came to pass. All the same, the funky shrimp salad and the worryingly furry soft-shell crab it took to find this out wholly failed to nudge in front of me a single Godly thought. (On the way out we read two signs up in the window that, if only glimpsed earlier, would surely have kept us keeping on: “Bikers welcome” and, “If you start a fight you’re out – and don’t go to Bill or Chuck asking to come back in.”)
We hit the road again and tried not to think of toilets – an endeavor helped soon enough by the several city roundabouts between us and our final destination (to yield or not to yield? Hey ho, a little bit of both, I guess, and not too much of either…). Finally we arrived. In time for valet parking, the usual tipping quandary (three bucks enough?), and a quick breather before our night out on the town.
…Which, I mustn’t deny, basically involved a few Georgetown shops, a (much better) French-style dinner, and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (as good as the Hergé originals? Certainly not! A whole lot of fun just the same? Yep!). We would have stayed out longer, only my invitation to ‘walk around for a bit,’ in the cold, proved all too easy to decline. The Potomac at night and the Kennedy Center sparkling beyond, sure did look jolly special, but, alas, away from it we went. The only things competing for our attentions ended up being Jackie’s ever-increasing tiredness and my ever-increasing crankiness, in response. ‘Merry Christmas,’ we failed stubbornly to say, as the clock in our hotel room clicked around to midnight.
No matter, though. Surely we could count on the season of goodwill to make us make amends. Right? In the 7-Eleven, perhaps, where we stopped off for coffee (Whole Foods and Starbucks both closed), en route to some kind of walking tour that we planned on being the fat part of our day. Ha! Forget slothfulness and TV and eating far too much, we’d be outside and nimble, enjoying the many monuments to American history that pepper DC like the well-seasoned crust on everyone else’s fine Christmas ham.
Martin Luther King. FDR. Jefferson. Check, check, and check. Oh, and the back of the White House, naturally. And the grandiose front of the white marble Capital Building… All good. Albeit, frankly, also pretty far apart and with not much in between them. Save for weirdly empty streets, and the vast, utilitarian grimness and grayness of government buildings conspicuously underutilized for the day.
But, again, what, if anything, made us think of the sweet baby Jesus? Hmmm. Well… nothing really… And yet the Chinese food we ate for lunch someplace over in Capital Hill was so darn good it was mighty hard to care. And, after, so bustling and busy was the U.S. Botanic Garden, there was scarcely time to notice. So I settled, instead, on dazzling my lovely Jewish wife with my deadpan English wit:
“Wow, there’s such a rich diversity of plant-life here, it’s no wonder they built a giant greenhouse around it, and made this spot a visitor attraction.”
Maybe Jackie laughed just a little bit inside. Probably not. With us rushing to the movies, though, I missed the chance to check. In front of us: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, another Chinese meal (this time in Chinatown), and a long walk back to bed – most of which Jackie spent expecting us to be beaten and/or buggered any second.
…And, hey, before I really even knew it, Christmas Day was done. (Hell, if it hadn’t been for me calling my folks earlier in the morning – themselves fresh from walking up and down Southwold Pier in Suffolk – I might have missed it altogether.)
It sure was a fun trip, mind, and quite the bracing change of pace. (Oy vey) Jewish or (ho ho ho) Gentile, though, it turns out what I really like most of all is a wife who loves going to the movies just as much as me. …Dragon Tattoo was excellent – but, no, I never read the books.
*entirely unobservant of all Jewish holidays and most Jewish customs, sure, but nevertheless bat mitzvah’d, and fully aware of the difference between a dreidel and a latke.