Is there any quieter time on the streets of Nashville than Christmas morning? I would venture to guess that at least eight out of 10 households are cozied up inside, gathered 'round the tree, sipping Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee, opening gifts and listening to Vince or Amy or Martina sing "The Christmas Song." Everyone else is either out of town or sleeping in, or so it seems.
This may come as a shock to residents of the buckle of the Bible Belt, but not everybody celebrates Christmas. The fact of the matter is, folks of other faiths (or no faith), committed Scrooges or people without family nearby don't have a heck of a lot of diversions on Dec. 25. Stores, gyms, recreation centers, performing arts centers and theaters, museums, libraries, bowling alleys, most restaurants, clubs and many bars are shut up tighter than Santa's Workshop on Dec. 26. What's a Jew to do?
As far as I can tell, entertainment options are limited to movies and strip clubs, and the latter just isn't everyone's cup of tea.
From 1990 through 1996, I knew exactly how my Christmas would unfold; an annual Christmas Eve open house at a close friend's, service at church, dinner at home, kids to bed, assemble and wrap presents, kids up at the crack of dawn, unwrap presents, drive 70 miles southeast and have a traditional Southern Christmas dinner with the in-laws.
In 1997, when my children's father and I separated, we had to reinvent the holidays. Because his family lives in-state, and mine does not, he got the actual days, and I got the eves, of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. That first two-home Christmas was difficult; on Christmas morning, when my 7- and 6-year-old went sadly down my front walk away from me, clutching a couple of the presents Santa had brought them, to get in the car with their father and drive to Manchester, I felt like my heart was being taken away as well. I went back in the house, sat in the rocker in front of the tree, and cried and cried. I might have sat there until the day after Christmas if my friend Jayne hadn't called and offered an alternative to my personal pity party.
"Let's go eat Chinese and catch a movie," she suggested. God bless her; as a Jew living in Nashville for about a decade or more, she knew exactly what the options were. Chinese food and a movie. I have absolutely no recollection of where we ate or what we saw, but I do know that I saw every Jewish person I knew at the Lion's Head cinema (now an OfficeMax store).
My friend has turned a lifelong habit into a clever promotion for her client Jay Pennington, big man on the Bound'ry/South Street/Chu campus in midtown. On Dec. 25, have yourself a very Chu-ish Christmas with their Dinner and a Movie special; one entrée is worth one Regal Cinema movie voucher, good for one year at any Regal location. (Supplies are limited.)
If Chinese isn't your thing, Bound'ry will also be open with a full menu on Christmas Eve and a limited menu Christmas night. The day after Christmas, Bound'ry will be open for Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 pm. The spread ($25 a person) includes create-your-own omelets; classic eggs Benedict three ways with crab, spinach and artichoke, or cracked black pepper bacon; a seafood bar with sushi; an Asian dumpling bar; fresh cured ham and beef tenderloin; waffles; and Bloody Marys. Not to be left out of the party, South Street will also be open for dinner Christmas Eve, closed Christmas Day, and open for Sunday with their regular brunch menu from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (South Street, 907 20th Ave. S. 320-5555; Chu, 909 20th Ave. S. 515-2742; Bound'ry, 911 20th Ave. S. 321-3043)
Meanwhile, field reporter Manuel Zeitlin, another practitioner of the Dec. 25 Chinese-and-a-movie tradition, tells me that the Golden Coast Chinese restaurant, at the corner of 17th and West End, presents a weekend buffet of native Chinese cuisine. The spread includes chicken with garlic, several types of steamed fish with ginger, congee (a rice porridge that serves as a base for a variety of toppings), duck and a plethora of vegetables. Testament to the authenticity, Zeitlin says, is the number of Asian patrons who crowd the small restaurant on Saturdays and Sundays. (1722 West End Ave. 321-8882)
Forget all your cares and go...downtown
My home is a Halo-Free Zone, and will remain that way; nonetheless, if my children were left to their own devices, they might spend much of their winter break playing with their new video games, watching reruns of The Gilmore Girls, downloading music onto their iPod minis, or IM-ing their friends. Instead, they are cursed with an old-fashioned, mean mother who restricts their time on a sofa or in front of a screen, and requires them to actually bundle up and go outside!
There will also be several opportunities for them to roll their eyes at me as I force them to broaden their horizons at various points of local interest. Now is the time to check out the always expanding Nashville Zoo and the rejuvenated Adventure Science Center, drive Nolensville Road and check out one of the dozens of ethnic restaurants, or go bowling, ice skating or roller skating.
An entire day can be spent downtown. (Avoid the confusion suffered by suburbanites when confronted with inner-city parking, and take the bus. It's fun, easy and cheapfor fare, route and schedule information, go to www.nashvillemta.org.) Walk your way from the Frist Center at Ninth and Broadway to the Toy Museum on Eighth Avenue, then to The Arts Company on Fifth Avenue North. Grab a bite to eat in the Arcade, Nashville's first enclosed shopping center; casual dining choices run the gamut from the perpetually entertaining Manny's House of Pizza to the just opened branch of Bolton's Hot Chicken. From the Arcade, it's just a couple blocks to the Nashville Public Library; before checking out some books for your children's daily reading hour (yes, I make my kids do that, too), check out the "Key Ingredients: America by Food" exhibit on display in the main lobby until Jan. 2. Using photographs, illustrations, artifacts and text, "Key Ingredients" presents a thumbnail sketch of the history of food in Americaeating, cooking, food production, regional and cultural variations and more.
On the mezzanine of the second floor is a commemoration of the Library's first century: a timeline of text and photos with Library and Nashville milestones from 1904 to 2004. From there, walk through the Nashville Room to the engrossing Civil Rights Collection, a tribute to the civil rights movement in Nashville, thoroughly explored and movingly documented by David Halberstam in The Children.
A circular replica of a lunch countercornerstone of so many demonstrationsis inscribed with the Ten Rules of Conduct written by movement leaders John Lewis and Bernard Lafayette; these were carried by protestors during sit-ins to reinforce their commitment to nonviolent protest. Large, black-and-white blow-ups of photographs of the protests, from the archives of The Tennessean and The Nashville Banner, are compelling in their emotion; a video with interviews from key figures in the struggle plays on a loop in a small room. The Civil Rights Collection is not to be missed, a gripping chronicle of an unforgettable period for Nashvillians who were there, and a priceless gift to those who were not. (Nashville Public Library, 615 Church St. 862-5753; www.library.nashville.org)
A Titanic season
These are hard times for the Tennessee Titans and their followers, who have never experienced the agony and defeat of a losing season. Restaurateur Randy Rayburn (Sunset Grill and Midtown Café) feels your pain, and he has partnered with the Titans to provide Club Level seat holders with some comfort food. Don't let the sight of the once mighty Titans hauling their battered bodies onto the field for the two remaining games of this sad season (7 p.m. Dec. 25 against Denver, and noon Jan. 2 against Detroit) leave a bad taste in your mouth. Instead, bite into a succulent Kobe beef sandwich from Chef Brian Uhl. The Sunset/Midtown food selections will be available at the 50-yard line of the Food Court on Club Level; besides the Kobe beef sandwiches, the starting lineup includes crab cakes, lobster tail, white bean-chicken chili, and Midtown's famous lemon artichoke soup.