Since before I can remember, I’ve been getting Chinese food on what my dad calls “Erev Christmas,” aka Christmas Eve. If I was lucky, sometimes we’d go out for dim sum on Christmas morning. Nothing better. This unofficial mandate for Jewish people to enjoy Chinese food (and maybe a movie) on Christmas is perhaps the most well-known Jewish tradition—and it isn’t a religious one at all.
Several non-Jewish friends over the years have met my beloved yearly ritual with confusion: “Why do you do something for Christmas? Don’t you celebrate Hanukkah?” As any Jew will attest, in the grand scheme of Jewish holidays, Hanukkah isn’t that big of a deal; its proximity to Christmas makes it so commercial and well-known. From the “Saturday Night Live” “Hanukkah Harry” to whatever a Hanukkah Bush is, these neoteric attempts at conformity were sparked from centuries-old Christmas traditions.
Only a little over a century old, the Jewish custom of enjoying Chinese food on Christmas is rooted in the search for acceptance. Both Chinese and Jewish immigrants naturally came together as outsiders, sharing an “otherness” in their non-Christian beliefs. Myriad factors like operational logistics and kashrut laws also contributed to creating this tradition. As culinary historian Michael Twitty explained: “How do you affirm your Americanness when the ‘American’ thing to do is celebrate Christmas? You create your own ‘Christmas.’”
Refer to the following guidelines and suggested supplies as you embrace your own “otherness” and celebrate Christmas the Jewish way. Invite some friends, cozy up with Chinese food and get ready to watch the finest of flicks!
Chinese food may be consumed on either Erev Christmas or Christmas Day.
Although dim sum on Christmas morning is supreme.
All Asian cuisines are delicious.
If quality Chinese food isn’t available, any Asian cuisine will suffice—just plan ahead! Last year’s Erev Christmas was met with crushing disappointment when I found out every single Asian restaurant in my vicinity except for one was closed. I had my heart set on Thai for the entire week leading up to Erev Christmas and had to settle for sushi. Don’t want to leave your house? Make your own!
Chopsticks are mandatory…
It’s an authentic part of the experience! Forget this fork mishigas and enjoy cultural cuisine for what it is and how it’s intended. Chopsticks are easy! They just take a little practice and soon you’ll be teaching your friends how to use them (and you better enforce their use, too). When you blow people’s mind with your chopstick prowess, tell them with pride, “Of course I know how to use chopsticks—I’m Jewish!”
…But if you’re ordering out, you may need to ask for them.
I’ve learned the hard way most restaurants do not automatically include chopsticks in pickup and delivery orders. Invest in a few reusable pairs to have on hand anyway, just in case.
Erev Christmas is better observed together than alone.
Unless you want you-time. In which case, live it up and self-care the $%&# out of it. Make sure you order enough takeout to make the restaurant think it’s for two people. No one’s judging—we’ve all been there.
Movies are movies.
My family never went to the movies on Christmas and I have no idea where this tradition even comes from, but no complaints here. Who doesn’t love movies? Watch them either in the theaters or at home. Christmas movies are solid choices. Need some suggestions? Check out our list!
Stockpile your snacks.
Wherever you end up watching movies, make sure you have lots and lots of snacks. Yes, you can sneak them into the movie theater and anyone who tells you otherwise needs to lighten up. (Fun fact: The guy who introduced popcorn to theaters was Jewish.)
May the Force be with your takeout! “Star Wars” not your thing? Decorate your own chopsticks with Washi tape.
Jewish Christmas Candle
Set the scene with this olfactory experience. Smells like cliché in the best possible way.
Chinese Food Takeout Carton Marzipan Lollipops
A solid dessert choice; one fortune cookie isn’t enough!
Pickle Candy Canes
Pickle Licious ($7.99)
Take Out Bowls
Am I the only one who loves eating takeout straight from its paper box with chopsticks? If your go-to spot has joined the plastic container game (which is lame on so many levels), go back to original takeout roots with these classy substitutions.
Enjoy this throwback from “The O.C.” Granted, it wasn’t spawned from the happiest of Cohen family Chrismukkah celebrations (I’ll let Season 1’s “The Best Chrismukkah Ever” speak for itself), but it’s a cool concept. Show your shul buddies how into the holiday spirit you are.