BY SKEPTIK SINIKIAN
One of the reasons I moved to Los Angeles and enjoy living in a large city is the diversity of experiences and people that a place like this offers. L.A. is home to not only some of the great restaurants and types of cuisine but you’re always being placed in the path of learning something new. Whether the lessons are accepted or not is entirely up to the individual or group. I think of myself as a dry sponge in the wet pond of experience that LA offers.
From Thai curry to Mexican bread, I want to soak up every inch of this great social and cultural experiment. And when I see a ready exchange of cultural ideas or trends, it reinforces my faith in humanity. Where else but in America and in Los Angeles specifically can you go to an Armenian supermarket and find Mexican cheese and chorizo sausage? Can you order an Italian pizza with soujoukh or basturma from any other pizza chain in another part of the country? It’s only a matter of time before we acquire a taste for Korean kimchi (pickled cabbage with chili) and we see jars of it on display at the local food mart. Super King and JONS have already capitalized on the diverse mix of the region by carrying almost every type of ethnic food. And who cares if that old lady buying the packet of won ton dough is not going to make won tons but use the dough to make Khungali dumplings or a tray of Mantah instead? It still makes me happy to see it.
I’ve always enjoyed watching Armenians adapt to America but it is even more exciting to witness this process in a place like LA where the ingredients of this giant melting pot are allowed to retain their unique flavor and add to the overall mix. Lately, however, I’ve noticed that our community is not just acculturating but is ignoring and running away from the very things that make us unique as Armenians. And nowhere was this more evident than on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at church in Glendale this year.
I remember going to St. Mary’s Armenian Church on Christmas and Easter when I first moved to Glendale being amazed at the number of people who showed up for church services. You knew you were getting closer to the church by the mass of people walking towards the place and the Glendale police directing human and automobile traffic around the area. Last month when I went for Christmas Day services, the church was busier than it usually is on a Sunday but nowhere near what it used to be. There were plenty of open seats and the majority of the people there were over the age of 65. After church I went over to Glendale city hall to pay my utility bill before they shut off my electricity and water. I was surprised to see quite a few Armenians at work on Christmas Day. And even more surprised when I found out the city council had held a meeting the night before on Christmas Eve. I always thought Glendale was the one of the few places in America where Armenians had left their mark and their traditions were respected. I guess I was wrong.
But who is to blame? The city for wanting to go about business as usual or the Armenians who don’t make it a point to respect and honor their traditions? It’s very hard to say but I blame our own community. If we don’t take our own traditions seriously, how do we expect others to do so? The tradition of celebrating Christmas on January 6 instead of December 25 is one of the things that make Armenians stand apart from the millions of other Christians in the world. It’s not just that we celebrate “Armenian” Christmas but we celebrate the True Christmas. It is our responsibility as a nation to remind the world that Christmas was celebrated on the 6th of January long before bureaucrats in Rome decided it was easier to consolidate the date of Christ’s birth with a major pagan feast.
My friend and I had a long discussion about this and he mentioned an interesting fact. As a doctor, he had worked in Cedars-Sinai – one the premier hospitals on the west coast. Cedars-Sinai operates under Jewish traditions since its founders were community members and doctors of the Jewish faith. What does that mean? Well, on the Sabbath – the holy Jewish day when every Jew is forbidden to use any technology – the elevators at Cedars Sinai automatically stop on every floor of the hospital without pressing a button. I had to confirm this and after a few quick searches on the internet (thank you Google!) I found out it was true. So a major American hospital was willing to perform the equivalent of what some might consider a juvenile prank (pressing every button on the elevator) causing a seeming inconvenience to non-Jews and all out of respect for the holy Sabbath? How can you not admire that and the dedication of a people to their faith and heritage?
Meanwhile, Glendale’s Armenians were going about their business on Christmas day like it was any other day of the week or year. No where in the city that boasts the world’s largest concentration of Armenians outside of Armenia or Russia was there a sign that January 6 was a special day. What good is it to tell people we are the first Christian nation in the world if its only a piece of useless trivia? What is the point of declaring our faith as founded by the very Apostles of Christ if our practice of that faith is reduced to having “koo-koo pilaf” and salted fish the night before we all go to work as usual? What is the point of saying Armenians are unique if our actions are so apparently common?
I don’t claim to have the answers to these questions. After all, I went to work on True Christmas Eve. But the next morning, on True Christmas day, I told everyone at my work place that I was taking the day off to go to church and spend it with family. Sadly, it looks like I was in the minority. Even the other Armenians looked at me funny for taking the day off and going to church of all places. But I didn’t care because I was Armenian. And I headed to St. Mary’s waiting to meet the throngs of others who felt and prayed as I do. I went up the steps and entered a partially full church on the holiest of Armenian Holidays. And on January 9, across town, in one of the busiest hospitals in America, the elevators stopped quietly on every single floor.
Skeptik Sinikian lives and works in Glendale but won’t admit it publicly. He’s ashamed of being one of the few Armenians who don’t go to work on April 24 or January 6. You can email him at [email protected]