What do Jews do on Christmas?


Sophia Khan

Many Jews on Christmas spend time with their family, eat Chinese food, and watch movies.

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My name is Miriam, and I’m Jewish, which means that I don’t celebrate Christmas. Like many other Jews, I love Christmas lights, decorations, music and cookies. But on Christmas day I don’t sit underneath a tree and open presents. So then, what do Jews do on Christmas? 

Well, that answer can vary from person to person. Some Jewish people are also Christian, or have Christian relatives, so they still unwrap presents, make gingerbread houses and more. Other Jews don’t unwrap gifts at all, and they simply treat Christmas like any other day of the year. This year, Christmas falls on a Saturday, so many Jewish people will go to their synagogue for Shabbat. For me, although I do have Christian extended family, I don’t celebrate Christmas. However, I have my own Christmas day traditions, as do many other Jews I’ve talked to. 

Before taking a look at my own traditions, I had to ask some of my Christian friends what their Christmas traditions were. I got an assortment of responses that included:

“On the morning of Christmas in my family, you have to say ‘Christmas gift’ before someone else says it to you. Sometimes I’ll barely be awake and my brother will say ‘Christmas gift’ to me before I’ve even opened my eyes.” ~Genevieve Chermside

“We have this tradition with a ball of saran wrap. Basically, there are rolls of saran wrap around a big gift, with smaller gifts like gift cards hidden in between all the layers. You pass the ball around, and when the person after you rolls the dice and gets doubles, they get to steal the ball; you keep any gifts you got while it was your turn.” ~Bella Budzyn

“My family all goes to my grandparents’ house, and we have the normal Christmas traditions, but we also do some weird ones. Every year, my grandfather buys us lottery tickets that we scratch off during our Christmas lunch. The weirdest tradition we have is definitely the gift opening. My grandmother has three pickle ornaments she hangs on the tree and whoever finds all the ‘Christmas pickles’ first gets to be the first one to open their presents.” ~Lauren Baxter

Okay, but that still doesn’t answer the question: what do Jews do on Christmas? I actually have a lot of “Christmas” traditions, considering the being Jewish thing. First of all, my family always gets Chinese food on Christmas. For as long as I can remember, on Christmas day, I’ve gone to my Mimi and Zady’s (my grandparents) house for dinner. We all sit around the table, eat Chinese food and play Rummikub. Growing up, I never really knew why we ordered Chinese food on Christmas day.  I just knew it was something we did, and that was good enough for me. Recently, I learned the history of this Jewish-American tradition. At the end of the 19th century on the Lower East side, Chinese and Jewish immigrants lived near each other. Jews would eat Chinese food on Sundays, since the Jews were not going to church. Not to mention, almost all Chinese takeout is dairy free, making keeping Kosher much easier. 

Another tradition my family has is going to the movies on Christmas day. Now, we don’t do this every year, and we haven’t been able to recently because of COVID-19, but it’s always a ton of fun when we do. Movie theaters are one of the few places on Christmas day that are open, and they provide at least a few hours of entertainment. Bonus points for the fact that you might get an entire theater to yourself.

When I was younger, on Christmas morning I would run downstairs just like any other kid would. Then, I would look under the kitchen table for presents (we didn’t have a tree, so the obvious spot for Santa to put gifts was under the kitchen table). There were never any presents there, but I enjoyed hoping.

This year, I plan to make and decorate cookies, read a book, spend time with my parents, grandparents, sister, aunt, uncle and their baby, and eat some Chinese food. If you’re celebrating Christmas, I hope you have a fantastic day, and if you aren’t: eat Chinese food, hang out with family or just hide away in your room. Happy holidays everyone!

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