As Christians hang their stockings over fireplaces and bake cookies to set out for Santa Claus, some may be wondering: What do Jews do on Christmas? Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, most stores, restaurants and many offices are closed on Christmas. But this doesn’t mean Jews (or people of other religious faiths who don’t observe Christmas) are left at home with nothing to do.
Quite the contrary, in fact. There are a number of traditions that Jews can choose from on Christmas -- and like many aspects of Judaism, most of them involve eating good food. Here is what non-Christians typically do on Christmas.
Chinese Food: Eating Chinese food is the ultimate Jewish Christmas tradition. Chinese restaurants are always open on Christmas, so they are an easy option for anyone looking for a bite to eat on the otherwise restaurant-unfriendly holiday.
But Jews’ special affinity for Chinese food is not only about its accessibility. Historically, Jews trying to assimilate to life in America could convince themselves that Chinese food -- which does not include dairy in most of its main dishes -- was not breaking their dietary laws that prohibit mixing dairy and meat. Today, there are plenty of Kosher Chinese restaurants if you’re in a city like Philadelphia or New York, so even the most observant Jews can partake in the delicious tradition.
By now, eating Chinese food on Christmas is a fairly well known practice and has made its way into popular culture. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan even referenced the tradition during her confirmation hearing for the high court. When asked where she was on Christmas Day, she replied: “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”
Movies: The other main component of a Jewish Christmas is a trip to the movie theater. Like Chinese restaurants, movie theaters are open on Christmas when little else is, and seeing a film is a great way to spend time with family without having to talk to them. In recent years, Hollywood has made Christmas Day a huge premiere date for important movies, which has given Jews -- and plenty of others -- a wealth of options to choose from.
Actually Spend Time With Family: Even if Jews don’t celebrate the holiday, most people have Christmas Day off from work, so it can be a great time to catch up with family members and spend a relaxing day together. Some Jews also enjoy hanging out with their Christian friends on Christmas -- after all, there’s plenty to the holiday that doesn’t involve specific religious traditions.
Go To The Matzoball: Many cities hold a Jewish singles event on Christmas Eve, which has been dubbed the Matzoball. It’s a chance for Jews to meet potential matches outside online dating and in real life on a night when there is little else going on. The Matzoball website has a list of cities hosting events this year and more details about what you can expect.
Go To Work: Some Jews will take holiday shifts and work on Christmas so their Christian co-workers can make sure to get the day off to celebrate with their families. In industries where offices have to be staffed throughout the holiday season, Jews often like to work around Christmas so they can take time off during other parts of the year when Jewish holidays fall.
Volunteer: Many charity organizations need volunteers on Christmas, and Jews (as well as other non-Christians) are frequently among those who sign up to help. From soup kitchens to homeless shelters to food and warm clothing drives, many synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions organize volunteer teams to work on Christmas since their congregations won’t be observing the holiday.