Blog: Partridge in a pear tree

Burt Ross

What in heaven’s name does a “partridge in a pear tree” have to do with the birth of Christ? What does a dreidel have to do with a little oil lasting eight days? I have to tell you, the older I get, the more this whole holiday season confuses me. Just between us—and let it stay there—I have no idea what a partridge is, and I have never seen a pear tree, so how would I ever know if I witnessed a partridge in a pear tree? 

As for “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay,” I played with dreidels as a kid, and mine were always made of wood or plastic. Who came up with this clay thing anyway?

Let’s face it, for many people these holidays have more to do with shopping than anything else, and I who hate to shop am thus a victim. I don’t just hate to shop—I HATE to shop. I would rather go to the dentist than to shop, and I don’t like going to the dentist, even though my dentist, Dr. Niebergall, is a perfectly nice human being.

The way I look at it, the word “shop” is a four letter word, and the word holiday “sale” is an even dirtier four letter word. When somebody tells me how much he or she saved by buying something on sale, I can only think how much they would have saved by not buying the object in the first place.

Our economy depends on the holiday season for a good chunk of our retail sales. Were I not to shop for the holidays, I would be guilty of high treason. It would be a far more unpatriotic act for me to stop shopping than to kneel before a football game, which I have no intention of doing. I am way too old to kneel. I might never be able to get back up.

If I am to be a good loyal American, I must shop until my wallet is empty, and so being the good loyal American I am, I have shopped this season until once again I am unflush with cash. (There is no such word as “unflush,” so if you ever use it, I expect a royalty.)

The challenge as always is what to buy for whom. This is especially difficult when I have absolutely no imagination. My favorite gift is the 10 percent discount card sold for $20 by Our Lady of Malibu’s School. (If you buy five cards, you get a sixth card for free.) The card entitles the holder to a 10 percent discount at many of Malibu’s favorite restaurants. 

The school used to sell the cards at the end of each year, but shortly after I moved here, I asked the powers that be whether they would be open to some advice from a Jew. They were. 

I explained to them that there was a very important Christian holiday celebrated in December, and if they sold their discount cards in early December, I could anticipate people buying them as Xmas gifts. They did and I bought.

It might seem insulting to buy some well-off Malibuites a card which saves them $5 when they spend $50, at let’s say Malibu Seafood or Kristy’s. I disagree wholeheartedly. I have always said that $5 here and $5 there add up to $10 any way you slice it. 

If you feel the necessity to dig deeper into your pocket when buying a gift, you can always buy a friend a $250 membership to the Malibu Film Society or a gift certificate at Nobu’s, Geoffrey’s, V’s, Tramonto’s, Gravina’s, or any of a dozen other fine restaurants in town. 

I’ve been thinking. This year I might buy some friends a really nice gift basket from a place like Zabar’s in New York City. The basket would contain all the things I like (Kosher salami, lean pastrami, smoked salmon, rugelach), and then I will make it a point to visit those very friends within a day or two of the basket’s delivery. There is no way good friends wouldn’t dare share these tasty delights with me, who just happened to stop by.

On the receiving end, my favorite gift is a jar of good sized kosher sour pickles and sour tomatoes from my friend Jonathan Gross back East. He sends me a jar every December, and I am eternally indebted to him for this tastiest of all gifts. Within two or three days at most, the contents of the jar vanish. I consider myself quite fortunate that my bride is not a particular fan of either of these kosher delights.

Writing this particular column has for some reason been quite cathartic for me. Simply talking about all this has reduced the pressures I feel before the holiday, and with all this mention of food, my appetite has been whetted. For the actual holiday, my bride and I will host some family and friends, and we will chill. (A strange expression for when the temperature in Malibu is quite moderate.)

And so as they say on Fox News, “Merry Christmas,” and as they say on MSNBC “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings,” and as I say, “Have a wonderful time, enjoy your company, be grateful for all you have, and while you are at it, eat some potato pancakes with sour cream and apple sauce!”