My family is a bit crazy. For tens of years, some evening the week before Christmas, all of my cousins and aunts and uncles and I have gathered for a 6:30 dinner reservation at Cafe Un Deux Trois. Schlepping up to Times Square just for dinner would under any other possible circumstances be a hard no of course, save this one time a year when this basic, average meal features a silly, sentimental show.
The 6:30 reservation timing is key you see, because at 7:00, the restaurant's entire crowd turns from diners to carolers. Waiter Michael Pollard runs round the room dressed in his annual Santa ensemble (I have a tough time believing he gets a new costume all that often, if ever at all), assigning each table a number in the pièce-de-resistance of holiday songs, "The Twelve Days Of Christmas."
Without fail my aunts are shameless in their peppering of Mr. Claus, desperate to get us the highly-coveted, show-stopping, punch-packing role of "Five Golden Rings." Not all days were created equal. Some years luck has been on our side, and others, we've had to make due with smaller supporting roles like "Three French Hens" or "Seven Swans A-Swimming." At least with "Nine Ladies Dancing" there's the opportunity for a little improvised choreography.
Once everyone in the restaurant knows their part and has received their corresponding decorated poster board to wave around when the moment is right, the evening's jolly MC rings a bell to signify the start of this most sacred Christmas ritual. He dances around conducting as every table sings its part in the song, aggressively prompting more from his singers and their performance each time he rounds the room throughout the lengthy circling tune. My family doesn't so much sing their line so much as they scream it - an almost competitive attempt to establish festive dominance over the rest of the room. Ever louder each passing time, we'll raise our hands, swing around napkins - anything to add that extra bit of flair.
The "Twelve Days of Christmas" is an oddly important song in our family. Each year on Christmas Day, my Uncle Ron sets up a camera on a tripod to take our holiday photo. Every few seconds the camera takes a snap while we all squish into frame, standing and sit ting and laying down in a school class portrait style arrangement, and sing through the whole song. A song which we have all sang together countless times in our lives, and yet we are never able to remember the words to.
We may be Christmas people, but we are most certainly not numbers people. Three minutes into the song, who can say for sure if it's eight or nine Maids-A-Milking, and by the time we get to the very last verse, ready to take the show home, the song's become some kind of Jumanji-esque holiday memory game trap that none of us knows how to sing our way out of.
At least at Cafe Un Deux Trois we just have the one line to keep track of, and to make things even easier, we're pointed at precisely when it's our turn.
There are many things I'll miss about Christmas in New York this year. I'll miss our Cafe Un Deux Trois performance, and subsequent family stroll around the Winter Village at Bryant Park. I'll miss crying in one of the dingy theaters at IFC during a screening of It's A Wonderful Life. I'll miss hosting a big holiday soirée. I'll miss trying my best to order seven different fish dishes for Christmas Eve dinner at Aquagrill, my absolute favorite restaurant in New York, which like all too many, has sadly closed its doors for good since COVID.
But still, there are so many things I can do - am most fortunate to be able to do - during this bizarre pandemic holiday season. I can still peruse John Derian's desperately magical shop which is dripping with ornaments (I'd recommend just booking a shopping appointment else expect having to wait a few minutes due to capacity restraints). I can still ugly cry my way through It's A Wonderful Life, just this time it will be outside at one of The Standard's movie nights. I can have a member of my quarantine crew over to socially distance decorate gingerbread houses. And I can either come to grips with the reality of my new Aquagrill-less life and find a different seafood spot, or dump as many fish into Ina Garten's Cioppino recipe as I possibly can to hit my Feast of the Seven Fishes quota.
Either way, I count myself incredibly lucky to still be in New York, happy and safe and healthy.
And with that, I wish you the most merry, festive, safe, happy and healthy holiday season! And may we all spend more time thinking of and supporting those who may not be as fortunate following this devastating year.
For that I should have the time or means to write such silly musings as this, and that you the time and means to read it - I am honestly shocked you made it all the way through this incredibly rambling essay by the way - is a huge gift to be thankful for! Even if I can't obnoxiously scream scream a Christmas song inside a restaurant with my family this year.