Jews and Chinese food. A seemingly inseparable pair. While their Christian neighbors celebrated Christmas Eve at mass and around the tree, Jews around the country took part in their own time-honored Christmas tradition: heading out to the local Chinese restaurant for a festive meal.
A Facebook page “Jewish Christmas: Chinese food and Movie” has been dedicated to the tradition, and the hashtags #JewsOnChristmasEve and #JewishChristmas have Jews waxing about what’s become almost a religious imperative. Here’s a sample:
What did I do tonight? Chinese food and a movie of course. #jewishchristmas— Ally Goldberg (@Ally Goldberg) 1356405047.0
Instead of opening presents, I'll be opening fortune cookies :) #JewishChristmas— Allie Michel (@Allie Michel) 1356389777.0
The kids all played dreidel-they weren't in their beds, while visions of Chinese food danced in their heads. #jewishChristmas— Hannah Frankel (@Hannah Frankel) 1356353132.0
One woman reported a long line at the local restaurant:
Two and a half hour wait at #Chinese restaurant!! This is too funny!!! #JewsOnChristmasEve— Heidi (@Heidi) 1356393121.0
The phenomenon is not just limited to the Northeast. The Dallas Morning News canvassed local businesses on behalf of its Jewish readers and provided a list of ten Chinese restaurants that are open over the holiday. The Salt Lake Tribune profiled a Utah family that cooks fried rice and and chicken stir-fry on Christmas. And New York’s Serious Eats website listed its local joints in a post titled: “How to Celebrate Jewish Christmas: 20 Tasty Chinese Restaurants in NYC (With Nearby Movie Theaters).”
In Boston, a local business staged a Chinese food-Jewish themed comedy show called “Moo Shu Jew.” Organizers advertised the sold-out event this way: “This Meshuggena Show was created for Jews to enjoy at Christmas time, where Jews feel most at home, in a Chinese Restaurant!” Meshuggena means crazy in Yiddish.
Award-winning playwright and screenwriter David Mamet once penned this cartoon:
One writer jested:
For years, Jews and Chinese Restaurant owners have come together on Dec. 25 to celebrate food, family, and fellowship in the midst of what is otherwise an eerily abandoned ghost town. It's nice to see that this place really appreciates that relationship — even if they seem to be under the impression that chicken lo mein is mandated in the Torah.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in her 2010 confirmation hearings was asked by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham how she’d spent her Christmas, to which she answered: “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is himself Jewish, explained: "No other restaurants are open!"
Despite the fact that this has become a Jewish-American tradition, it’s worth noting that most Chinese restaurants are not kosher, serving pork, shellfish and other items prohibited in dietary laws mapped out in the Torah.