What Do Jews Do On Christmas? Christmas For Jews

Twas The Night Before Christmas

... and it seemed as if everyone I knew was enjoying Christmas Eve dinner. Except for us.

Growing up on Long Island, NY, I was one of only a handful of Jewish kids in my school. And for the people who've questioned this, there are some areas like Plainview, where most of the people are Jewish. However, I grew up on the Eastern end and while there were *some* Jewish kids in my class, there weren't many, and I was different enough so that I felt like the odd kid out and experienced some nasty remarks. Most of the year, I didn't think too much about this, but when it was time for Christmas, I always felt a little left out. Sure, we had a holiday party in my class every year and every so often, one of my Christian friends would have me over for Christmas dinner. But as I eyed our bare home amidst the rows of decorated houses on our block, I often wished that I could be a part of this giant party that the whole world seemed to be celebrating.

As I grew older, I came to appreciate being Jewish a lot more and realized that while we didn't celebrate Christmas (and no, Hanukkah is not "Jewish Christmas," even though it sometimes falls around the same time of year), we still had our own little traditions for the holiday. Over the years, I've reached a point where I like the fact that Jews have some unofficial rituals for December 25. This hub gives me a chance to share a few of my favorites.

Admiring The Christmas Lights

I absolutely LOVE Christmas lights, especially when they're artfully arranged. Many people now put up lights for every single holiday but it's just not the same. When there's a light frost on the ground and a row of white and lights are twinkling against it, it's one of the most beautiful sights ever, in my opinion.

That said, my dad and I made a little ritual out of jazz and Christmas light viewing. Each December 24, our local jazz station would play a 24-hour medley off punched-up holiday tunes. As we listened to them on the car radio, my dad would drive around to all of the different housing developments in our area so we could admire the Christmas lights and enjoy the music. We sometimes spent hours doing this, sometimes chatting, sometimes not. But it was a nice way to enjoy some quality time with my dad and is something I'll always remember.

The latest twist on this tradition is my best friend, Scott, who does celebrate Christmas, has let me decorate his home for the past few years. It saves him work and is a big thrill for me!

Giving Someone The Night Off

I wish I could take credit for this kind tradition, but one of my parents' friends used to enter a convenience store or restaurant, or some other business that would stay open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and volunteer to cover someone's shift (and then give that person the money that was earned). This way, said person could actually spend the holidays with his or her family, while our family friend didn't feels as if he were missing anything by doing the work. They say that Christmas is the season of giving so this is a great way to help someone out.

I also know some Jews who volunteer at soup kitchens or missions or hospitals on Christmas, which again, is a great way to use our free day off.

Making Music

When I was in high school, I was fortunate enough to land a job as a church musician for a few Christmas Eves. My flute teacher arranged for me to play some classical music and holiday tunes for her church, which was one of the oldest Protestant churches on Long Island. I eagerly agreed and had a great time doing this. Never having gone to midnight mass before, it was a fascinating experience and everyone really let me know how much they appreciated me playing flute for them.

I also played with a flute choir, which would perform holiday songs for the local senior homes. Again, everyone there was so thrilled to have us entertaining them, which made me so proud to be a part of that tradition.

Chinese For Dinner

By far, the most popular "Christmas tradition" that Jews seem to partake in is having Chinese for dinner and then going to the movies. I'm not sure what the origin of this is, though I'm guessing it has to do with the fact that Chinese restaurants and movie theaters are actually in business on Christmas.

For several years, my in-laws made a big deal out of this tradition. We'd come up to their place for the holiday and we'd drive around looking at the lights (this was my addition to their ritual). We'd then go to the Chinese buffet ... which was always packed! The first time we went, I couldn't believe it. But basically, everyone from my mother-in-law's synagogue was there that night, all enjoying their typical holiday dinner.

My sister-in-law is now wed to a Catholic, so my in-laws spend Christmas with her (and have abandoned us). But my husband and I have carried on the Chinese/movie tradition. We don't own a car so we walk around looking at the lights, then make our way downtown to the restaurant and theater. Sometimes our Jewish friends will join us, but it's always sure to be a fun evening.

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

I always get excited when it's time for Christmas, especially in New York City. I love the lights, the energy, the holiday parties and the overall welcoming vibe. I have the utmost respect for the holiday and appreciate its importance. Whatever I end up doing on December 25 this year, know that I'm thinking of those of you who do celebrate it and hoping that you have the best holiday ever.

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Comments 16 comments

LazarDRod profile image

LazarDRod 6 years ago

"...one of my parents' friends used to enter a convenience store or restaurant, or some other business that would stay open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and volunteer to cover someone's shift (and then give that person the money that was earned)." That is fantastic. It's nice to see that there are still good hearted people in this world.


dfelker profile image

dfelker 6 years ago

NYC is so festive during the Christmas season. I miss the lights on 5th Ave and ice skating at Rockefeller Center! We had Chinese food for Christmas too, but then again, we're Chinese! My uncle or other relatives would bring back food from their restaurants. Thanks for bringing back some good memories of the city.


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Funny but I have envied the Jewish traditions, wishing I had Friday night rituals and Hebrew School at the Synagogue and the Kabbalah. I guess it's cool to have all of it out there.


TheSablirab 6 years ago

I have always wondered what my Jewish friends did during Christmas break! I even wondered if they celebrated Christmas (not for the religious purposes) and had the tree, lights, etc; did it more for the kids. But I guess not! :D Thanks for the Hub!


NaomiR profile image

NaomiR 6 years ago from New York Author

There are some Jews who do put up a tree (my grandmother used to, in fact). But my parents' philosophy was always that we didn't actually celebrate Christmas, so we weren't going to decorate. I'll go to a million Christmas parties and help my friends decorate their places, but I don't put up lights or a tree or anything in my home. It's really all about what you, as a Jew, feel comfortable doing. I know some people who aren't Jewish, but like to put up both Hanukkah and Christmas decorations, too.


TheSablirab 6 years ago

Interesting! I guess, at the end of the day, it's all on how you are raised. I, myself, am not Jewish, so it's hard for me to imagine NOT having at least a tree. Thanks again! Nice to learn something that I've always thought about.


ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 6 years ago from USA

It was a total pleasure reading this hub, because I can relate to it. Thank you.


borisV 6 years ago

Thank you very much for the post!

The information is very interesting - it's nice to know how the other nations are celebrating!


Mortgagestar1 profile image

Mortgagestar1 6 years ago from Weirton,West Virginia

Many of my Jewish friends celebrates the festival for Christians in good cheer as I also celebrate with my Jewish friends during Yom Kippur and Chanukah. We are all Americans and should open our eyes to the various gifts and celebrations of different cultures.


down2earth617 profile image

down2earth617 6 years ago

I never knew many Jewish people when I was growing up. I worked with a woman that was Catholic and Jewish, but she did not claim either one. She celebrated both traditions and I found that idea to be very politically correct. She had an open mind about all cultures and she showed me how we can all learn to live together if we believe in the same Creator. I currently started to learn more about Judism and I love all their traditions. After all Jesus practiced these traditions when he walked this earth and He is the reason Christmas began...


Tete Nutterson profile image

Tete Nutterson 6 years ago from Smallville, USA

I really enjoyed this!


june of ages profile image

june of ages 6 years ago

Excellent article. I really like that you and your family created special traditions. As I was growing up, all of my Jewish friends went to the movies and I was jealous.


bearclawmedia profile image

bearclawmedia 6 years ago from Mining Planet Earth

Don't you wish the world was as tolerant and open minded as all of us here on the hub pages? Good hub well written. Happy holidays! Bearclaw


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts

What a nice Hub about Christmas, written from the perspective of someone who is Jewish. When my daughter was in preschool I was sending in treats for the Christmas party, and I was putting stickers on each treat. Since I didn't know which children may be Jewish I included plenty of Hanukkah stickered treats (even though I do know it isn't "Jewish Christmas" :) ). The teacher gave out the treats, so she could figure out. (I think she was Jewish, actually.) I did want my preschooler to know that some children's families may celebrate Hanukkah. Later she had the leftover stickers and put them all over her ice-skating helmet. The ice-skating program had a Christmas party, and her instructor came skating over to me, carrying my "Hannukah-helmet" daughter. She seemed awkward, as she asked, "Are you Jewish?" (We don't have a Jewish name.) She was concerned that we'd object to the party if we were, in fact, Jewish (as my daughter's helmet led her to believe). I hoped the stickers weren't disrespectful toward someone else's religious celebration, but I've always thought people should lighten up about holidays and enjoy the fact that, of all the crummy things that go on in the world, all holidays are a pleasant and special part of life (even if not necessarily our own).


Hussains profile image

Hussains 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

I have always celebrated Christmas as it's a beautiful festival and is celebrated at a lovely time of the year. I learned about Hanukkah a couple of years ago and appreciate it, as it is the festival of lights and have always wished my Jewish and Christian friends on their festivals. We celebrate Eid-the Muslim festival and Diwali the Hindu festival as well. It would be a lovely world if every one thought of greeting or acknowledging different cultures and festivals instead of expecting every one to greet them on their festival and ignoring diversity. Thanks for writing an interesting hub.


NaomiR profile image

NaomiR 6 years ago from New York Author

Thanks, everyone! It's been great hearing about everyone else's stories in regards to celebrating their own holidays or celebrating along with their friends. I'm happy to report that I'm having a wonderful holiday season so far. After celebrating Hanukkah, I helped my friend decorate his tree and then enjoyed our traditional Chinese feast on Christmas day. I hope everyone is having a great season regardless of what you celebrate and has an awesome 2010.

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