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.
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.