Because nobody thought to tell me otherwise, I believed in Santa Claus until I was eleven. This is not because I was a particularly gullible child, I don’t think – it’s just that nobody ever pauses to gently break it to the Jewish kid that Santa doesn’t exist. I’ll never forget my mother’s face when, in the days before my fifth grade winter break, I asked her if, just this one time, Santa might think to stop at our house too. After all, I had been a reasonably good girl all year, making my bed, winning that spelling bee. Would Santa really ignore my manifest goodness once again just because I was Jewish? I mean, wasn’t that a little bit – racist?
“Um, you’ve got to be kidding me,” my mother said, or something along those lines. “Honey, Santa Claus is make-believe. He’s like a fairy tale for Christian kids.” “What?” “It’s true,” she said. “He’s no more real than the tooth fairy.”
“THE TOOTH FAIRY!?”
Anyway, I guess when you believe in something like Santa Claus for so many formative years, it’s hard to get your head around the fact that he doesn’t exist, and that the pitter patter of what you once thought were reindeer hooves landing on your neighbors’ roofs are actually just lunatic squirrels.
It had become a habit with me, as we finished our yearly Christmas dinner of wonton soup and General Tso’s, to silently curse Santa for ignoring me yet again, and old habits die hard. Even now, as night falls on Christmas Eve, I look up at the sky and imagine a sleigh in the distance, shooting through the heavens, and I feel a little heartbroken for the Jewish kids who don’t know any better, and this Jewish woman who does. So to cheer myself up, I make Jewish Christmas Eve Lasagna and eat it, accompanied by a big glass or two of wine, surrounded by friends and family of all religious persuasions. It’s not as good as a fat man dropping Nintendo game systems through wide brick chimneys, but it’s much better than almost anything else.
JEWISH CHRISTMAS EVE LASAGNA
11/2 pounds of mixed wild mushrooms, scrubbed
Roughly chopped mixed herbs (I usually use rosemary, oregano, and thyme)
a clove or two of garlic, chopped
a shallot, chopped
your best tomato sauce (jarred, homemade, whatever you like)
fresh mozzarella (the better quality the better)
fresh ricotta (same here)
boiled lasagna noodles
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 350. Saute the shallots and garlic in the olive oil, and then, when they’re fragrant, throw in the mushrooms. Saute them til they turn color and lose their liquid; drain the liquid, season with salt and pepper, and set aside. Spoon some tomato sauce on to the bottom of your lasagna pan. Layer the noodles, a thin layer of your fresh, good-quality ricotta, then a layer of your mushrooms (use about half), then layer the noodles, sauce, ricotta, mushrooms, another layer of noodles and then sauce. Top the whole thing with slices of fresh mozzarella. Bake, covered, for twenty minutes or so, and then uncover and let the mozzarella brown, maybe 8 or so minutes more (or run the lasagna under the broiler for a minute or two).
Eat it and then open lots of presents you bought for yourself: cashmere scarves, hardcover books, trips to Hawaii, the good stuff. And follow everything with the cookies and milk you set by the fireplace – you know, just in case.
LAUREN GRODSTEIN is the author of the collection The Best of Animals and a novel, Reproduction is the Flaw of Love, which was both a Breakout Book selection from Amazon.com and a Borders Original Voices pick. Her work has been translated into German, Italian, and French. She teaches creative writing at Rutgers University.