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culture

A Chinatown Christmas

How to enjoy yourself on Christmas, the Chinatown way.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nguyenbrian/6407564527/"}Brian.Nguyen{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

It’s almost Christmas, and you know what that means: Chinatown.

Well, okay, for most of you it probably means family togetherness and gifts and whatnot. But for those of us who aren’t involved in one-or-another variant of Christianity, and who don’t have a lot of family in town, what this holiday is, primarily, is a day off work when everything fun is closed.

Everything fun, that is, except Chinatown. Which, if you happen to be Jewish, is perfect.

It is a documented fact that many Jews love to celebrate Christmas with Chinese food. Nobody knows exactly why. At least one academic researcher, Hanna Miller, has studied the question. In a 2006 paper published in the Journal of Popular Culture [PDF], she finds no clear answers, but theorizes that the single biggest contributing factor to the Jewish predilection for Chinese cuisine is the fact that in the early 20th century, Manhattan’s Chinatown bordered on the Lower East Side, a traditionally Jewish district.

As Jews immigrated to New York City, they became prosperous and shed their traditional dietary restrictions (no pork and no shellfish, among others). It’s a possibility that the first restaurants they turned to when the time came to exercise their new wealth and gustatory freedom were Chinese ones.

And it just so happens that Chinese restaurants are pretty much the only ones open on Christmas, the day when Jews everywhere are dying for entertainment. Thank you, Jesus.

So how can you get the most out of December 25 in Chinatown? Well.

Pick the right restaurant.

Many of the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown will be open for business on Christmas Day and through much of the night. Lee Garden (331 Spadina Avenue) seems to be the annual hotspot, with lines out the door. But steer your empty stomach across the street to King’s Noodle (296 Spadina Avenue) and you will be rewarded. Not only can the spacious dining room there swallow the worst crowds Christmas has to offer (prepare to be seated at a huge banquet table with strangers if you come alone), but the barbequed pork and duck—whether served atop sauce-soaked noodles or in a golden soup stock—are so tender and delicious you’ll find yourself forgetting all about this weird, cold, consumer season for the duration of the meal.

If Chinese food isn’t your thing, there’s at least one other option in the Chinatown area. Caplansky’s Deli (356 College Street) is open on Christmas Day, but only until 5 p.m. So if you want some smoked meat or a nice tongue sandwich (and why wouldn’t you?) you’ll have to get it early.

Go see a movie.

Another Christmas fact known to nonbelievers of all stripes is that movie theatres are always open. There are plenty of holiday blockbusters that are worth seeing. Tintin, for example, is pretty good, and it’s playing not far from Chinatown, at the AMC Theatres in Yonge-Dundas Square (10 Dundas Street East). Or avoid the crowds and see Margin Call, a film that almost definitely won’t sell out any of its screenings, but that the New Yorker says is “easily the best Wall Street movie ever made.” The Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond Street West), a short walk south of Chinatown, is showing the new Mission Impossible, which we hear is not terrible.

Get drunk.

We have it on good authority that Ronnie’s Local 069 in Kensington Market (69 Nassau Street) will be serving drinks on Christmas. The barkeep there tells us they’ll be opening the doors at around 3 p.m. and closing them whenever all the heathens decide to leave.

We will see you there.

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