What Do Jews Do on Christmas?


  • Most Jews do not celebrate Christmas

  • Most things are closed, so there is little to do on Christmas

  • Chinese restaurants and movie theaters are often open

  • Family get-togethers and work are other options

Christmas is not a Jewish holiday. Many Christians think of Christmas as an American holiday, a secular holiday or a cultural holiday, but most Jews today do not think of Christmas that way. According to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, 82% of Jewish households never have a Christmas tree (and the idea of a "Chanukah bush" is mostly a joke, not anything anybody takes seriously). A 2013 Pew survey found that less than a third of Jews have a Christmas tree, and most of those are intermarried. Even among those who are intermarried, only 71% had a Christmas tree, far less than the 90% of Americans who celebrate Christmas. A 2007 survey by InterfaithFamily.com found that only 38% of interfaith families that have decided to raise the children Jewish have a tree in the home. It has become a cliché to talk about the "December Dilemma," the problems that Jewish parents face when their children become jealous of the presents and the fanfare of Christmas, or when interfaith couples must decide what to do for the December holidays.

Many Jews (even highly assimilated Jews) are uncomfortable about Christmas. We don't mind other people celebrating Christmas. We aren't offended at a good-natured "Merry Christmas!" (although it may not give us the same warm-fuzzy feeling that you get). We don't mind the festive lights (although please, turn them off before midnight, I'm trying to sleep…). We don't object to the Christmas music playing 24/7 in every public place and many radio stations (although I find other things to listen to). And we're more than happy to share your cookies and candy (as long as it's kosher). Enjoy the holiday to your heart's content; just allow us to refrain if we choose to. We don't particularly want to celebrate it ourselves, and there is enormous social pressure to celebrate Christmas whether we want to or not. One Jewish writer said it's like being a man in the lingerie department: you feel like you don't belong there. Another Jewish writer said, "just try telling a Christmas enthusiast that the creche in front of your post office makes you uneasy; suddenly, 'frosty' describes more than just the snowman." Many secular Christians have told me that Christmas is my holiday too, and some of them get very angry or even nasty when I tell them that I don't want to celebrate it, calling me "Grinch" or "Scrooge."

So if Jews don't celebrate Christmas, then what do we do on December 25? In some years, Christmas overlaps with Shabbat, in which case you can always go to synagogue! We shouldn't be doing anything on Shabbat anyway! Christmas overlapped with Shabbat in 2020 (Christmas night was a Friday night) and 2021 (Christmas day was a Saturday), but this wont happen again for a while: Christmas will next be on Shabbat in 2027 and 2032. But even when they do overlap, synagogue isn't an answer for everybody, because a lot of Jews don't observe Shabbat and many don't even belong to a synagogue. So what do we do?

It's tough to find something to do on Christmas, because just about everything is closed, rather like the early days of the 2020 pandemic! Except on Christmas, even the grocery stores are closed! But here are a few of the more popular Jewish December 25 activities in normal years:

Go out for Chinese food
Many Jews go out for Chinese food on Christmas. In fact, Justice Elena Kagan mentioned this in her Supreme Court confirmation hearings: when a senator asked her where she was on Christmas, she said, "You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant." Someone even wrote a song about Jews eating Chinese Food On Christmas. In fact, there was a meme of a sign on a Chinese Restaurant (not real!) from the "Chinese Restaurant Association" thanking the Jewish People that our G-d insists that we eat their food on Christmas! The Chinese do not celebrate Christmas any more than we do, so most Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas. In Philadelphia and New York, there are several kosher-certified Chinese restaurants to choose from, so that even the most observant Jew can eat Chinese on Christmas. Some have pointed out that in modern times, many restaurants are open on Christmas so you can eat something other than Chinese if you want. But you have a choice: you can dig around to figure out what's open or you can just go to any Chinese restaurant. I find the latter is easier.

Go to a Matzah Ball
In some cities, Jewish singles organizations sponsor "Matzah Balls," Jewish singles dances named after the popular chicken soup dumpling, on Christmas Eve or Christmas night. Since the pandemic began, there have been virtual Matzah Balls, so you can meet people from all over on Zoom if you're not ready for in-person events.

Go to a movie
Many movie theaters are open on Christmas day, particularly in the afternoon (after 4PM). In fact, in 1998, a friend and I went to see The Prince of Egypt in a local theater on the afternoon of Christmas day (though I still haven't figured out why a Passover-themed movie was released at Chanukah-time). Of course, if you're not up for going to a movie in person, you can stream them. I like to watch Danny Kaye's The Court Jester, sort of a Robin Hood parody, great fun for the whole family, with a young Angela Landbury. It has nothing to do with Christmas, but maybe that's the best thing about it when you're Jewish and stuck at home on Christmas.

Originally Published: https://www.jewfaq.org/christmas