We began with the simplest of intentions: a new tradition, a very New York Christmas tradition, which we would initiate this year. As the sun went down on Christmas Eve, we fancied ourselves up, wrapped on the layers, and made our way to the classic, the storied, the magical FAO Schwartz. We would take Biet to romp around the majestic toy store with its huge glass windows overlooking Central Park, let her pick out a Christmas toy, and then head back home for late supper and bed. It would be perfect.
The daylight hours flew by on the 24th and before we knew it, the sun was setting and it was time to go. As I was zipping Biet's little winter coat, I found myself secretly wishing that we were spending this day with family too. How amazing it would be to have my Dad and my sisters here with us to adventure to the toy store! But, alas, all of our family was far, far away. So we started down the sidewalk towards the subway station, pushing Biet in her stroller.
And then the phone rang. My Uncle Bob & Aunt O'Lynn, who live upstate, and whom we love dearly, were in the city! They had come on a whim to see the Rockefeller tree and were heading to Grand Central to catch the train back home. And if we came right away, we could all rendezvous in the station! So our plans changed.
We headed straight to the marble-walled Grand Concourse of Grand Central and waited by the big clock in the center. The station was all done up for the holidays and the last minute travelers rushed about in all directions. Biet glowed happily in the busy swirl of city energy. We had some time to kill until my uncle arrived, so we locked her stroller outside the station and let her run freely through the magnificent space. With her little red rain boots on her feet, a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie in her hand, and countless new "friends" passing by to meet, she was in heaven.
We ended up roaming the beautiful station for quite awhile, but it was so much fun! Then we met and hugged and kissed my family, and everyone was once again on their way. We bundled up and headed out into the cold. Since the weather was lovely and we'd be able to see all of the holiday windows, we had decided to walk up to FAO Schwarz, and we were excited. Then, just as we left Grand Central, it began to snow. A white Christmas!
The snow was light at first, but soon began to pile on top of Biet's poor legs and sting our eyes and our fingertips. We hurried, and it began to snow harder. We finally made it past the life-size toy soldier's at the store's entrance and into the magical holiday wonderland. Then time sort of stopped. Biet ran and ran and ran in joy. She read the books and touched the giant stuffed animals and gazed at the barbies. She handled all of the art supplies and the toy cars. She sat on my hip and peered into the glass nursery with the life-size baby dolls. I would point at each one and tell her "baby!", and she would look a bit confused, pat and kiss my belly, and repeat "baby." She was over the moon when Gaby took her to play on The Big Piano. We had so much fun, but before we knew it, it was past Biet's bedtime...
I had yet to pick up a ham and vegetables for our Christmas Day feast, and had decided that it made the most sense to simply swing into the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle on our way back from FAO Schwartz and carry the ham home on the train. So we rushed out the door of the toy store, purchases in hand, and hurried across the park. It was really snowing now, and we were all starving. We finally made it into the Columbus Circle store, only to be met by a security guard. The store had closed hours ago! I had checked (multiple times!) online, and there was no mention of early closing hours. Yes of course its Christmas Eve, but this is the city that never sleeps! How could it be?!
Well, it turned out that it wasn't only Whole Foods that had shut down early. Not a grocery store within walking distance could be found. I was devastated. Everything would be closed on Christmas Day for sure, and we had nothing at home but cupboards full of baking supplies! We couldn't live off of cookies, could we??
Then my Jewish husband saved the day. He knew a place where we might not be able to get ham, but where we could get excellent pastrami and corned beef: the legendary Carnegie Deli. It's the kind of place where, on any given night, you might sit next to the cast of a Broadway show, or the Clintons, or a woman taking her grandmother out for a bowl of soup. It's the kind of place where a sandwich is really a code word for a couple pounds of slow-roasted meat in between two pieces of rye bread. It's the kind of place always looks and smells the same, no matter how many weeks or decades its been since you were last there. And, late at night on Christmas Eve, it's the kind of place that feels like home the minute you walk in the door.
After we'd shared a mountain of corned beef and pickles and a bowl of matzo ball soup, and ordered a few more pounds to go. And after Biet had successfully melted the heart of the old woman at the table next to us, we all hopped on the subway back downtown, across the bridge, and home to Brooklyn. Gaby and Biet both passed out as soon as we walked in the door. They were both surprised the next morning to see that Santa had still come, despite the fact that they had fallen asleep before leaving out cookies and milk. We feasted all day on perfectly-cooked pastrami, whipped up a couple of side dishes, and baked cookies to our hearts' content. It was lovely.
And that is the story of how our little Christmas dilemma turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We're even considering making dinner at Carnegie Deli a yearly Christmas Eve tradition.