Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas in New York

We do not have many Jewish people in New Zealand. It leaves one very unprepared for Christmas in New York.

For instance, we had a menorah in the lobby at work but only a couple of the lights were on. So I helpfully screwed the other bulbs in, admonishing Otto, our security guy, for not trying hard enough to get them all working. Otto (the one who told me my lack of salsa finesse was more down to my lack of practice than my ethnicity) patiently explained that you're only supposed to light one per day, one for every day of Hannukah. Then he unscrewed them all again.

The Jewish Christmas tradition in New York is Chinese food and a movie. There are packages you can buy for the day, and Chinese restaurants do their best trade of the year. What confused me about this was that when I attended a carol service last week, a fair proportion of the people there were of Chinese origin. So if the Chinese people are not Jewish, how come the restaurants stay open on Christmas Day?

Incidently, I haven't all of a sudden turned religious. But I do like the singing and the stories. Speaking of which, our lovely Whale Rider adorns the buses here, advertising the film "The Nativity". She plays Mary. I haven't heard advertised something that is world famous in New Zealand - that she is in fact pregnant, at 16 yrs. And not yet married.

Anyway, back to New York. In New York you can't say 'Merry Christmas'. But you can say 'Happy Hannukah'. If you want to say 'Merry Christmas', you say 'Happy Holidays'.

People put up menorahs and Christmas trees. The city is alive with lights! Compared to Halloween, this is the Cinderella to Halloween's Ugly Sister (dripping blood from those cut-off toes). In most cities around the world, shops have fake snow, lights, candles, decorations etc. New York is one great big strip-mall of shops. It glows! It sparkles! It smells like pine! I'm sure from above, Manhatten resembles one great, glowing Christmas phallus. (Because that is the shape of Manhattan Island. Check it out if you don't believe me.)

Sorry, I do mean to say that this is, in fact, a beautful time in a beautiful city. Macy's has a window display of great lions that roar, elves on winged bycycles, a rotating Christmas tree and sea monsters...all of which move when the kids (and me) press a button on the store window. Saks resembles a sea of white lights, dazzling - I stood just inside the door, gaping. The tree is up at the Rockefeller Center and people whisk by on ice skates below it. The leaf-less trees on the side walk are all bound up with fairy lights, so that at night, the avenues become hallways of white and yellow stars.

In my apartment, we've put up a tiny, re-plantable Christmas tree. Pilar has decorated a pine wreath for the walls and we have white roses on the table. I've bought fairy lights too.

It's also the season for big tips and giving to charity. Salvation Army people stand on corners and ring their little red bells. When I hear them it's like an enema for my wallet. Apart from the ones with speaker phones. They get nothing.

Tomorrow I'm off to London, another beautiful city. And although I'm happy to go, I'll also miss being here for Christmas Day, when the streets are quiet but there's celebration in the cold air.

Merry Christmas New York! My affection for you grows every day.


Anonymous said...

That is very funny with the lights. Just trying to help, huh? Or perhaps control time itself!

Can't wait to see the new hair. Remind me to tell you the story of when my roommate decided to dye his brown hair blond during the middle of a Friday night party at someone else's house. So began days of many cheap dye jobs in an effort to make him presentable to be able to walk back into the Federal Reserve Bank where he worked on Monday.

- Jon

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should start working for Wal-Mart, Cat? They celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (some African holiday), but not Christmas:

Wal-Mart will put "Christmas" back into the holidays this year, the retailer said.

A year after religious and other groups boycotted retailers, including Wal-Mart (WMT), for downplaying Christmas, the world's largest retail chain will have an in-your-face Christmas theme this year.

"We, quite frankly, have learned a lesson from last year," says Wal-Mart spokeswoman Linda Blakley. "We're not afraid to use the term 'Merry Christmas.' We'll use it early, and we'll use it often."

The Catholic League, one of the groups fighting what it calls the Christmas Wars, says a member alerted it that Macy's was pitching a "Happy Hanukkah" gift card but not a "Merry Christmas" one.

Happy X-mas in London

Anonymous said...

Cat - have a wonderful Christmas/Hanukkah in London! I hope the fog has lifted by the time you arrive! The weather in NZ is confused - yesterday it hailed!

PS I loved the story about the lights. Otto knows you have been taking salsa huh?

PPS Really like the hair!

Derek said...

Too funny. Great writing.