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Arielle Greenberg is the co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic (1913 Press, forthcoming 2011), and author of My Kafka Century (Action Books, 2005), Given (Verse, 2002) and the chapbooks Shake Her (Dusie Kollektiv, 2009) and Farther Down: Songs from the Allergy Trials (New Michigan, 2003). She is co-editor of three anthologies: with Rachel Zucker, Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days (Iowa, 2010) and Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (Iowa, 2008); and with Lara Glenum, Gurlesque (Saturnalia, 2010). Twice featured in Best American Poetry and the recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship, she is the founder-moderator of the poet-moms listserv and is an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago. Currently she is on sabbatical in Maine and is trying out Mark Bittman's Food Matters eating plan.
O Holy Pizza by Arielle Greenberg
First fact: I'm Jewish. I grew up in a Modern Orthodox household, and it was very clear to me as a child that we did NOT celebrate Christmas. We could admire Christmas (which we did by driving around at night looking at the tacky lit-up houses in my grandparent's Long Island neighborhood, watching the Peanuts special on TV, and looking at the Macy's windows in New York City), but it was not OURS.
Second fact: now, as an adult, my family celebrates Chanukah in our home, but I do not enjoy preparing Chanukah food. I am not so good at grating (I tend to grate my knuckles). I am not so good at deep-frying (I tend to scald myself). I do not enjoy jelly doughuts. When possible, I will buy latkes pre-made from a kosher deli, and we buy the best chocolate gelt we can find, but I don't really go full-force on the Chanukah food. I prefer to focus on the menorah lighting, the dreidel spinning, and the gifts.
Third fact: I married a non-Jew. He's not really anything else, either--he grew up Episcopalian, but his own upbringing was almost devoid of religious content, and he feels no connection to any of it. He's glad to do Chanukah with our kids instead of Christmas.
Fourth fact: I do, in fact, love a lot of things about Christmas. And I get some chance to capitalize on that love by celebrating Christmas with my husband's family. I love trimming a tree. I love Christmas music. I love the whole festive feeling.
Fifth fact: I do NOT love Christmas food. My husband and I are mostly vegetarians--our kids are strictly so (their choice, not ours). And before I was vegetarian, I was kosher. I have never eaten duck, lamb, or pork. I don't like the idea of a formal meal on a holiday that is so kid-oriented. My husband agrees.
So how did we save Christmas with his family from the world of creamed corn and ham, which, in fact, no one seemed to enjoy preparing or eating? Well, kids, one year we felt brave, and we offered to help host Christmas eve at my mother-in-law's, and we invited over the whole family...for gourmet pizzas.
At first, there was alarm. Concern about the elderly, who would miss the traditional foods. But we won them over with butternut squash, rosemary and fontina pizzas, arugula and potato pizzas, olive and pesto pizzas. Everyone dug in. Everyone ate on their laps. It was easy and informal. It was fun and festive and yummy.
We still talk about it: the Christmas of the gourmet pizzas. But it has sadly never been repeated.
(We used variations on recipes from Didi Emmons' Veggie Planet cookbooks, among others. Veggie Planet, a cafe in Cambridge, Mass, is an awesome place for gourmet pizzas.)