It's Christmas Eve and many Jews are scurrying quickly to Chinese restaurants, generally the only open eateries on this holiday. Like my brethren, my wife and I are joining friends, not for seven fishes, but probably for seven dumplings, a few egg rolls, some hot and spicy soup, chicken with cashews, Szechuan dishes and other goodies.

Oy! Such a feast!

While this evening isn't a regular ritual for us, we do occasionally enjoy getting out for an early movie and, like tonight, meeting good friends. Of course, now that I've joined the high blood pressure club and I'm trying to clear the salt out of my system, I shouldn't even be eating this kind of food. But what the heck? It's yontiff (a holiday), so why not indulge?

I suppose I could sound like a real historian and say that the ancient ritual of going Chinese on Christmas Eve began in BC when the Jews in Jerusalem couldn't find a decent place to eat on Christmas Eve and didn't want to crash the Christmas celebrations in town, but that's not really true, I'm sure. But I'm sure that someone decades ago must have screamed foul on Christmas Eve and said, "Why can't I find a decent restaurant for a meal tonight? Maybe there's a Chinese restaurant open.

And sure enough, a tradition was born and that practice has lasted through the generations. And today, some carry out and some eat in. But there is never a shortage of faithful Jews patronizing our Asian brothers' and sisters' dining outlets on this special holiday.

My parents used to take us to Pekin House on Devon Avenue in West Rogers Park for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner and it was always a feast. Believe me, I didn't get this chubby by accident. I had a long history of celebrating Christmas in a very Chinese traditional way.

We bumped into many of my parents' friends, along with a few relatives, and they often joined us for dinner. It was really fun and definitely beat sitting around someone's living room trying to be conveniently polite to family and opening gifts. We Gaynes kids and certainly our own children never felt deprived by not sitting around opening gifts. We always had a good time.

In the past 28 years that we've lived in Fairfield, we've probably gone out for at least 15 Chinese dinners on Christmas Eve and usually we've gone to either Panda Pavillion, until the arguing among the kitchen staff became so unbearable that it killed all of our holiday spirt; or to Hunan Pavillion, which is our all-time favorite. The staff at Hunan is so wonderful and they've known us since our kids were younger, so it's like having dinner with family. And I believe that the owner's kids have children now. We'll probably end up there this Christmas Eve too and possibly New Year's Eve, if I dare to have the salt.

Over the years, we have also been invited to spend Christmas Eve with friends and be with their families. Of course, those get togethers get a bit more expensive, because of the additional gifts and wine, but we love being invited and sharing a tradition that is different.

We had a particularly delightful experience that way a couple of years ago. Our dear friend Joyce, who had lost her husband unexpectedly the summer before, invited us to share her family's traditional Christmas Eve. Joyce was bravely making all of her mom's fish dishes, like Clams Casino and Shrimp Scampi and a range of other Italian dishes. We arrived about 6 p.m. and we didn't leave until almost 11.

The food was to die for and Joyce's family is wonderful. That particular year, her daughter Jill's new in-laws were there also and we had a wonderful evening. Those are the kinds of Christmas Eves I really enjoy -- everyone is in good spirits, the evening is laid back and easy, and the people make us feel so welcome.

And we've invited Joyce for several of our holiday events, too, so it's been a great way for her to learn more about our traditions as well.

Anyway, we're just getting ready to head out for an early movie before dinner so I have to run. I wanted to wish all of our friends and my readers, who celebrate this beautiful holiday, a very merry Christmas and a healthy, happy New Year. I'll save our Chinese leftovers. Come on over, anytime.

Steve Gaynes can be reached at steven.gaynes@yahoo.com