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Why Eating Chinese Food on Christmas Is a Sacred Tradition for American Jews

Brooklyn’s hip Mile End deli modernizes the traditional meal once again

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Mile End opened in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, at the beginning of 2008, a deli specializing in Montreal Jewish cuisine: smoked meat instead of pastrami; poutine instead of cheese fries; those flat, sweet things they serve up there instead of what New Yorkers call bagels. Foodies loved the sandwiches. Hipsters loved the Brownstone Brooklyn setting, the Stumptown coffee, and the brunch, which is just exotic enough to be adventurous and just familiar enough to be, well, brunch.

Then, Mile End began to offer an ambitious dinner menu that took your Eastern European Jewish grandmother’s evergreens and ran them through up-to-the-minute, fat-happy trends: shmaltzed radishes, veal cholent, kasha varnishkes with confit gizzards. What was this cool Canadian place doing serving traditional food? “To me, this is what deli is,” Montreal-born Noah Bermanoff, the place’s founder and co-owner, said earlier this week. “I’m not trying super-hard to be Montreal. I’m trying super-hard to serve food as I know it.”

So take a guess what Mile End is serving on Christmas Day. That’s right: Chinese food.

Titled a “traditional Jewish Christmas,” the prix fixe—served to two seatings on Christmas Eve and four on Christmas Day and made right in the kitchen—will start with wonton eggdrop soup, continue to roast duck with smoked-meat fried rice and Chinese broccoli, and end with fortune cookies and orange wedges. It’s your traditional Chinese meal, made hip, and—with that crucial addition of smoked meat—brushed gently with Mile End’s idiosyncrasy.

But it’s not a twee hipster affect or a one-chuckle joke; it’s a stark claim—almost a polemic. You will not go to Mile End on Christmas because you happened to feel like fried rice. You will go to proudly proclaim your Jewish-American identity. And yet even as the meal is mining this phenomenon, it also recognizes that, more than ever before, Jews are just another brand of white person, and so, especially, for young Jews, simply going to the local lo mein joint may not be enough.

***

The Hebrew year is 5774 and the Chinese year is 4710. That must mean, the joke goes, that against all odds the Jews went without Chinese food for 1,064 years. In fact, Jewish love for Chinese food is neither hallucinated nor arbitrary. It is very real and very determined, and it originates roughly a century ago, in a place about four miles away from Mile End: the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The predominant groups in the area were Eastern European Jews, Italians, and Chinese. According to Matthew Goodman, author of Jewish Food: The World at Table, Italian cuisine and especially Italian restaurants, with their Christian iconography, held little appeal for Jews. But the Chinese restaurants had no Virgin Marys. And they prepared their food in the Cantonese culinary style, which utilized a sweet-and-sour flavor profile, overcooked vegetables, and heaps of garlic and onions. Sound familiar?

Additionally, argued Gaye Tuchman and Harry G. Levine in a 1992 academic paper titled “Safe Treyf,” Chinese food featured the sort of unkosher dishes you could take home to your mother, or at least eat in front of her. For one thing, there is no mixing of dairy and meat, for the simple reason that there is no dairy. (Think about it!) Of course, there is trayf aplenty, chiefly pork and shellfish. But it is always either chopped and minced and served in the middle of innocuous vegetables all covered in a common sauce, or it is wrapped up in wontons and egg rolls—where you can’t see it. Goodman notes that the purveyors of Chinese restaurants eventually picked up on this: “They would advertise wonton soup as chicken soup with kreplach,” he told me.

Beyond the trappings and the cuisine, Chinese restaurants offered poor Eastern European Jewish immigrants the opportunity to feel cosmopolitan and sophisticated (food of the Orient!). It also let them feel superior, a truism that has achieved the most definitive canonization available: its own Philip Roth quotation. “Yes, the only people in the world whom it seems to me the Jews are not afraid of are the Chinese,” Alexander Portnoy tells us. “Because one, the way they speak English makes my father sound like Lord Chesterfield; two, the insides of their heads are just so much fried rice anyway; and three, to them we are not Jews but white and maybe even Anglo Saxon. No wonder they can’t intimidate us. To them we’re just some big-nosed variety of WASP.”

The final part of this story is the one you already know: Most Chinese people are not Christian. Therefore, on Christmas, Chinese restaurants are open.

***

OK, you say, but since the Lower East Side’s glory years, and even since the Baby Boomers’ halcyon suburbia, many more options have cropped up—Indian, Korean, Thai. But, still, as Rabbi Joshua Plaut, who is putting the finishing touches on a book about Jews and Christmas (it has a chapter on Chinese food), says: “For Jews, the decision to go to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas is conscious and intended.”

“It’s a love affair and a sacred tradition to partake of Peking duck,” Plaut quips. He argues that to eat Chinese on Christmas is a ritual, not unlike the rituals that traditional Judaism—which has always valued observance where Christianity has valued faith—requires. For some, the Chinese-on-Christmas experience is a replacement for traditional rituals: A prayer you can eat.

But more than standing in for religion, going to Chinese restaurants on Christmas as a Jewish person is an elective assertion of your culture. “As ridiculous as it is, there’s something kind of wonderful about it, that you’re paying homage to what has come before you,” said Goodman, the Jewish Food author. Bermanoff, of Mile End, has a nearly identical take: “If there is a culture that revolves around eating pork wontons on Sunday evenings,” he insisted, “then fine, that’s a legitimate culture, and therefore I’m allowed to recreate it.”

(The only time I can remember not eating Chinese on Christmas was several years ago, when my family was vacationing in Rome. No doubt we could have gone to the place that stays open for the American tourists, which surely exists, or stocked up on sandwiches the day before. But instead, we traveled to a kosher place located where the ghetto used to be. The restaurant was the only lighted thing on the street, and it was crowded and cozy. It served Italian food, not Chinese, but the night felt just like Christmas.)

Whether they have fully thought it through or not, Jews who eat Chinese food on Christmas are proclaiming that, for them, Jewishness is what philosophers call a second-order value. In contrast to valuing Judaism on the first order—enjoying the rituals themselves, sincerely adhering to the tenets themselves—they value the fact of their Jewishness. They go out of their way to do it. They may or may not enjoy General Tso’s Chicken, but if they are eating it on Christmas, their prime motivation is not the general’s sweet, spicy deliciousness, but rather the knowledge that they are doing something that in some adapted way reinforces their Jewishness. They are moved by their hearts, not their tastebuds.

***

Which brings us back to Mile End. Despite Bermanoff’s partaking in a well-worn tradition, he represents something markedly different: Jews are making their own Chinese food now. Bermanoff—who is, perfectly, a law school drop-out—encapsulates a younger Jewish culture. It is more aimless, less rooted—Boerum Hill, not Borough Park—and it sees its tradition less as a comfortable inheritance and more as a starting point. Perhaps it is the fact that Bermanoff is not American and therefore somewhat alienated to begin with that enabled him to more clearly perceive that assimilation and co-optation had ground what it meant to be a “New York Jew” down to little more than a nub with Woody Allen glasses.

Because let’s face it: Jews are not outsiders anymore. It’s not only to Chinese people that we can seem, at times, like “just some big-nosed variety of WASP.” Only among ourselves, on a special day that comes only once a year, can our commonalities and our distinctiveness become apparent.

This story was originally published on December 16, 2010.

***

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Not being “a big-nosed variety of wasp”, maybe this explains why I prefer to eat Middle-Eastern food on Christmas. The restaurants of my Arab-American neighbors are also open on Christmas and long into the night.

Lately, I’ve made more friends among the local Jewish crowd, so I do end up at Chinese restaurants. But I wish that I could drag them over to the places that make a mean lentil soup and falalel. Sigh!

timing is everything.

Erev Shabbat is the 24th. Santa, etc. better not ring the doorbell.

The 25th is Shabbat & we expect to have HAMIN>

AMEN. Selah

Gilbert Brodsky says:

Regarding why Jews are drawn to Chinese food in general: I’ve heard it promoted in several places (including a weekly Dvar Torah several years ago from Aish haTorah) that formerly observant people who were exploring non-kosher food for the first time preferred it because it wasn’t obvious what you were eating. Finely chopped vegetable mixed with rice and — what kind of meat is that? — well, it’s pork, or shellfish, or treyf beef, but who knows? — it could be chicken, or fish, right? Not so in-your-face as eating a lobster, or shrimp cocktail, or a pork chop.

Interesting hypothesis…

I’ve also heard it said that if you superimpose the maps of high Jewish population concentration and Chinese restaurant locations for both Montgomery Count Md and Westchester County NY, you’ll see a very clean overlap. Unverified (couldn’t find a reference on Snopes).

Dave Henig says:

I will be in shul both Erev Shabat and Shabat morning then off to the chinese restaurant for Dim Sum. much more fun that the regular Kidush!

Lindsay says:

“The final part of this story is the one you already know: Most Chinese people are not Christian. Therefore, on Christmas, Chinese restaurants are open.”

I wish this held true for those of us living in Oklahoma.

I live in Israel these days, and I still make an effort to eat Chinese on Christmas. It is alluded to in the article, but it must be said again that this is solely an American Jewish tradition. Being such a dominant minority group in a more Christian country, the fact that you don’t celebrate this huge holiday makes you stand up in cultural solidarity. In Israel, Christmas is just another day. Practicing cultural Judaism isn’t important because that’s just your everyday life. And as my luck would have it, perhaps as a result, our Chinese food here is terrible!

And as the late Allan Sherman said about the difference in the Hebrew and Chinese calendars, “Jewish people had to do their own laundry.”

Chi Halevi says:

Too bad so few Korean eateries are open that night and day, probably b/c so many Korean Americans are Christian.

It would be nice for us Chosen people to better know the Chosan people.

We have brought the tradition clear across the country to Portland and expanded it to include Thai and/or Vietnamese food as well.

I’m an African American Jew who goes to an Orthodox synagogue, lives a Conservadox lifestyle and teaches at two Reform congregations where its starting to be less uncommon to see kids like me, or Asian American Jews or Latino Jews, so please can we can it with the “just another white person” narishkeit? If Jews today are just another white person its probably because half the mothers of the kids I teach are Irish…

I’d say the Orthodox are still outsiders.

I’m intrigued by the fact that Tracy doesn’t make mention of the fact – perhaps he takes it for granted – that Mile End is not a kosher deli. That’s not a criticism of Mile End(they should be whatever they want to be), but it does say something that in a discussion of a return to traditional Jewish food, “kosher” isn’t even on the radar.

Yaffah says:

I’ve always heard that there were so many Chinese restaurants in Jewish and African-American neighborhoods because they served both of us when many “Christian” restaurants owners wouldn’t (‘no Jews or Blacks allowed’).

Jeff Forman says:

During my years as a teacher one episode sticks out that always makes me laugh. It was no secret to my students that I am Jewish. A few days before Yom Kippur a Chinese student told me that it is the greatest of all holidays. His father owned a very large Chinese restaurant and hundreds of Jews came in to break the fast. The also tipped well. We love chinese food, even the glatt kosher Chinese that I eat.

I have to agree with Akiba. If Tracy really believes “Jews are not outsiders anymore” he is either not paying attention (see the Weisenthal Center’s recent report on rising anti-semitism) or he has never ventured beyond the confines of New York City.

WIlliam says:

As Irene alluded to above, it’s really a deliberate reaction against the holiday, a counter-cultural signal.

Some of us non-Jews have our own ways of doing similar. I don’t eat turkey or ham at Thanksgiving or Christmas either. And I eat a lot of meat around Lent too, and never fish on Fridays, being Protestant.

On Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur I eat pork or ham, and plenty of raised bread on Passover. And I wouldn’t mind telling Elena Kagan that either, since that is what this article appears to allude to by its title, for her famous quip to Lindsay Graham. (If this article was written by a Christian it would be called “stereo-typing” and “anti-semitic”. Kind of like the Chinese “laundry” statement above, which was funny). People are just way too easily offended, aren’t they?

It’s interesting to think about how the Chinese food connection plays out in interfaith families. This season, I have written about an intermarried Jew nostalgic for Chinese on Christmas, and an intermarried Christian who has gladly adopted the Chinese food custom in order to get out of spending the day cooking turkey. My son is a patrilineal quarter-Jew, but he has requested Chinese food for his Bar Mitzvah luncheon this spring. What could be bad?

Akiba and Al: I’m sure Mr Tracy realizes that Jews come in many different ethnicities. The fact of the matter is that there are 6 Million Ashkenazic Jews in America. The majority of us pass as white. Indeed, there was a book written recently called “How Jews Became White Folks”.

In regards to Yaffah’s comment: “I’ve always heard that there were so many Chinese restaurants in Jewish and African-American neighborhoods because they served both of us when many “Christian” restaurants owners wouldn’t (‘no Jews or Blacks allowed’)”
Really? I think it’s because the Chinese are generally hard-working and will set up shop in a lot of areas other’s won’t. I’ve been to many desolate, poor areas in NYC, but lo and behold…that’s a Chinese takeout place behind bullet proof glass, across from the projects! I live in Chinatown, NYC and my family is from the area. I think nowadays the Chinese accept anyone who is going to spend a lot @ their restaurants and leave a decent tip. Quite honestly, the idea of Chinese people in my neighborhood serving Blacks and Jews before other places, back in the day, would probably only be financially motived if it’s true. I still get elbowed aside and waited on last in many Chinese businesses that are not restaurants. And trust me, I know ALL the words for ‘non-Chinese person,’ slang and standard, as they are thrown around by shop owners all the time.
Interestingly, many non-Chinese “white” look the same to the Chinese, and it’s doubtful they are putting any thought at all into labeling Jews as “big nosed WASPS.” They just have dollar signs in their eyes from Jewish patronage over X-Mas. There are still very few Black people shopping in Chinatown, patronizing restaurants, living in the area. Black people were always on the bottom of their list, unfortunately. I experienced this second hand through my African roommate who lived in the area some years ago.

Georg von Starkermann says:

As a German Jew I remember going to the “Chinks” right after Neila Service ended on Yom Kippur. This of course was in Brooklyn NY which held at least one million Jews within its County. Ironically, my mother kept a strictly kosher home and I had a Bar Mitzvah, but Chinese food always was a staple right after Yom Kippur.

Raymond in DC says:

Eli writes, “The fact of the matter is that there are 6 Million Ashkenazic Jews in America.” According to the most recent demographic studies, there aren’t even 6 million Jews in America! The figures I’ve seen suggest closer to 5.2 million – this despite the influx of Jews from Latin America and Israel (mainly Sephardic) and Iran (almost all Sephardic) who have slowly shifted the ethnic balance. The decline in numbers can be traced to intermarriage, low birthrates among the least Jewishly-observant, and general disaffiliation. The country with the most Jews is now Israel.

The numbers are debatable. The Census said America had 6.5 Million Jews in 2008.
There are more Ashkenazim in America than in Israel–they’re still the majority by far in the US. That was my point.

Actually, some sources say there are more Jews in the US than Israel: http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-10-population-jews-israel.html

I believe there are around 13 million Jews in the world, and around five million live in the US. For us remaining eight million (five million in Israel) – we don’t eat Chinese on Christmas Eve. And I grew up in a city with the largest and first Chinatown in Europe. Still we didn’t go to Chinatown on Christmas Eve.

Jewish-Americans: a subset of Jews, not ‘Jews’.

Since I started keeping kosher, getting great Chinese food becomes a real treat. Cho Sen Garden in Forest Hills is expensive but probably better than any trayf Chinese I ever had! I think it’s the quality of the meat maybe less grease?

FYI: The Chinese think its barbaric to cut meat at the table – it’s all done in the kitchen.

I already have my reservations (12/25, 7:00 PM) at Bamboo Garden, Seattle’s certified kosher vegetarian Chinese restaurant. I believe it is owned by Buddhists so there are no members of the lotus family (onions, garlic) in the food. It’s in a great location and the food is tasty.
Bamboo Garden is mobbed on Christmas night (except when it falls on a Friday, and then everyone goes on Christmas Eve). I’ve learned to make reservations, or order take-out, otherwise I can spend at least an hour waiting for a table.

Pamela says:

Here in Atlanta the Chinese restaurant of choice for Jews who observe Kashrut is Harmony. It’s Vegan and run by Buddhists, and the patrons on any given night are 50% Chinese and 50% Jewish. The food is excellent and inexpensive, and I especially enjoy ordering the Moo Shu Pork. Just saying it aloud to the server is delicious! I hope the part 2 of this article will be about going to the movies on Christmas.

Brandon Harris Walker has a music video on youtube that I love!!
It is called “Chinese Food for Xmas”

JCarpenter says:

@ Irene: “Christmas is just another day in Israel” ? Have you been to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day? or have you ceded the West Bank?

Jeffrey W. says:

I am Jewish, I grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, and we did enjoy eating Chinese now and then. But this is the first I ever even heard of a custom of going out to eat Chinese on Christmas Eve. We always paid as little attention to Xmas as possible.

Daphne B says:

Jeffrey, Growing up in a Jewish home on LongIsland in the 50s and 60s we always ate Chinese Food on Christmas Eve and went to the movies on Christmas Day. Maybe because you lived in Brooklyn, which is really a Country of its own. Hapy Holidays everyone…..

Yes, Chinese food & a movie on Christmas day – long a tradition growing up as a Brooklyn/LI Jew in the 60s. The Chinese restaurants & movies were open & mostly empty, as the “goyim” were either in church or with their families.

Not so much any more – at least in metro NYC – less church-going, more family time at the movies – so December 25th not so much of a “Jewish holiday.”

One thing to add: my mother kept a kosher home for most of my childhood. but we did have take-out Chinese food. She bought a separate set of inexpensive dishes just for the trayf! When she died, we donated the set to a Jewish thrift shop – maybe someone recognized what they’re for!

Daniel says:

The sub title reads inaccuretly, better: “Why Assimilated Ashkenzi Jews Eat chinese…”

Joseph Hayes says:

Thank you, Marc, you made me laugh with glee. I made the decision to have a “traditional Jewish Christmas” last year, and that’s what we’re doing on Saturday. Doesn’t seem to be a tradition here in Orlando, which is surprising considering how many other New York Jews live here, so we’ll probably be surrounded by our Chinese lantsmen. Oh, and by the way, that restaurant in Rome’s ghetto was serving very Jewish food indeed; the centuries of food coming out of the cucina ebraica influenced many dishes that we now consider Italian.

Charles Vernoff says:

The simplest explanation I’ve heard is from a professor at the U. of Chicago. When Jewish immigrants arrived and wanted or needed to assimilate, it would have been too blatant to go into a “goyish” restaurant and order a ham sandwich. But the Chinese weren’t goyim. They were some unknown, uncategorizable species. So Jews could pollute themselves with Chinese “safe treyf” and pretend for awhie they didn’t even realize……

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As an Ashkenazi biracial (aka not “just another version of white”) torah-observant Reform Jew (yes, i’m all kinds of “non-traditional” I guess) who grew up eating Chinese food on xmas, I wanted to love this article and relate to it. You were cognizant enough to explicitly state Eastern European a few times, but many of the African American, Asian, and Latin American Jews I know, which include people who follow Ashkenazi traditions and many Sephardic Jews, as well as a few other minhagim, also love the Chinese food on Xmas tradition. Jews aren’t just another kind of White person. Some White Ashkenazi Jews are… some Ashkenazi Jews (like myself) are not fully White, or (especially, but not only, in the case of conversions and/or adoptions) aren’t White at all.

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David B. says:

Marian,
you wanna treat your Jewish friends to an Arab meal at xmas? Are you stoned ?

Christmas Eve and Chinese food and no mention of San Francisco where Danny Kaye might be in the kitchen doing the cooking?
The rest are imitations.

Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any tips and hints for novice blog writers? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

ajweberman says:

Nittle Night
Unholy night
Wild dogs
They give me a fright
Avoid my wife till it becomes light
Tearing toilet paper into pieces
Tearing toilet paper into pieces

This is a very “Jewish” article. A long, scholarly dissertation on something very obvious. Jews starting eating Chinese food on Christmas because they were the only thing open. End of story.

This is a ridiculous article. I am a Jew who has lived for many Christmases along with my many Jewish friends, and we never went to a Chinese Restaurant on X-Mas or thought anything about it. The only time I ever heard about Jews and Chinese food was in Israel, where Chinese food can be completely Kosher, and still delicious, and therefore available to most people there, whether observant or not.

That’s where I went today, in fact. I would take Mediterranean over chinese any day.

FWIW, I grew up in New York — and thus am a New York Jew, which is a distinct subset of American Jews, and certainly of “Jews” in general — and we did indeed eat Chinese food and go to the movies on Christmas, so I have no problem with that generalization. But please, Italian cuisine “had little appeal” for Jews? Um….why? Sorry, but this strikes me as utter nonsense, as does the claim that the Jews of late-19th-century NYC were somehow distressed by the “Christian iconography” in Italian restaurants. We’re a practical people, and we tend to be fairly bright: If we don’t like the picture on the wall, we really are capable of turning around and facing the other way. In any case, Italian cuisine is certainly less pork-and-shellfish-heavy than Cantonese, and its noodles, braises, fresh cheeses and tomato sauces (and the sweet-and-sour profile found in a lot of Sicilian cuisine) would have been familiar to the Jews of eastern Europe.

And then there is the fondness for the “overcooked vegetables” of Cantonese cuisine. Excuse me? Has this writer ever eaten, much less cooked, a classic Cantonese stir-fry? “Overcooked” is about the last thing it is (the stir-fry technique was developed in large part to conserve scarce fuel; NOTHING is cooked a second longer than necessary). Furthermore, the sweet-and-sour profile that is supposed to have been so appealing to Jews is not in fact an element of Chinese cuisine; HOT and sour is the blend of tastes that is much more likely to be found. The goopy, cornstarch-heavy sauce with canned pineapple so familiar from bad Chinese restaurants was developed entirely as a response to perceived American tastes.

I have read any number of essays on the subject of why Jews tend to love Chinese food so much. One of the most persuasive explanations I’ve seen has to do with class: the Chinese were actually lower on the social totem pole than the Jews, and the Jews could thus enter Chinese establishments without feeling that they had to apologize for taking up space or that they were going to be hustled out the door. In any case, the explanations offered here are…..ummm, “dumb” is the word that comes to mind. Bad journalism, bad writing, sloppy thinking.

disqus_8IBCJX4eqk says:

Anyone who is interested in this discussion **must** check out Masechet Chopsticks by
Rabbi Rick Brody & Rabbi Rachel Kobrin, posted on Christmas Day, 2012.

http://kidmoot.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/masechet-chopsticks/

“It’s not only to Chinese people that we can seem, at times, like “just some big-nosed variety of WASP.””..This statement is worthy of “Der Stuermer”. .European anatomists/physical anthropologists, mainly in Britain and Germany in the 19 and early 20C focused attention on the Jewish nose and what made it different from all other noses. Why do you feel it necessary to publish this self-hating anti-Semitic garbage?

As a Brazilian Jew, I think this tradition does not make any sense. As for me, this is one more way to keep Crhistianity close to Judaism, compromising our own way to be. When we create festivities to avoid living other traditions, we automatically are into this kind of thing, celebrating in a diferent way, but pretty much like everybody.

surferpl says:

This article is so much intellectual bull. You go “eat chinks” (I’m sorry, but that’s what it was); you did it on Christmas because those were the only restaurants that were open.

GreeneIL says:

You find it ridiculous because you, personally, have not eaten at a Chinese establishment on Christmas? The world must be a pretty ridiculous place for you then … as your experiences are vastly different from everyone else’s.

I’m not from the east or west coasts. I’ve never been to a major metropolitan area on Christmas day or eve. My childhood was spent moving from military base to military base. My teen years were spent on a farm, in a farming community in eastern IL, 2 hours south of Chicago.

Almost every Christmas we found ourselves at a Chinese restaurant for two reasons, they were open (as stated in the article) and it was one of the few occasions where we could go out,on the holiest of holies in Christiandom and not be accosted with fa la las and holly jollies.

Eating Chinese food on Christmas extends beyond NY city. It was one of the few times that this Army brat and IL farm boy could go out and know that I wasn’t alone. Even though the closest Synagogue was over an hour’s drive, I was among my people and there was a shared yet unspoken understanding.

To this day I watch A Christmas Story to the bewilderment of people that aren’t that familiar with me. Each and every time I have to explain to my newer Gentile and Semite friends … it is the only Christmas movie that turns into a Jewish movie at the end. After all … where did Parker family end up as the movie concluded?

GreeneIL says:

That is a pretty offensive statement to make. We’re as Jewish as any other Jew … just as our experiences as Jews in the US (or perhaps North America) are unique to our place on this earth, just as Jews in Israel have experiences unique to their place on this earth.

We’re not a “subset” of anything.We’re as secular and diverse as any Jewish population anywhere else.

Natan79 says:

Yeah, self-important GreeneL, Linda is right. This is absolutely not a Jewish tradition. Passover is a Jewish tradition. Eating Chinese on Christmas is incredibly provincial New York garbage, nothing more.

Natan79 says:

No it doesn’t. It does however say something about Marc Tracy, an imbecile if there ever was one.

Natan79 says:

Garbage article from an idiotic writer. Why on Earth does Marc Tracy still publish his bullshit at Tablet? We knew he had moved his nonsense to The New Republic, where he competes with Noreen Malone on stupidity and shallowness. But is it really necessary to have this IQ 75 person again here? Is this a ploy of Tablet editors to show that Jews have their village idiots too, and an affirmative action meant to show that Tablet doesn’t discriminate against village idiots?

GreeneIL says:

Self important? Seriously? When did this elitism and snobbishness become so pervasive with Jewish culture? Are you now the authority on what constitutes tradition amongst every Jew? Seriously, get off the horse.

among st I’m not from NY and have never lived in the state nor city. I’m from the mid-west, from small town America where you had to travel a few hours to find a synagogue, a Chinese/Asian establishment, or even a fellow Jew. But we did it nearly every Christmas.

There’s nothing provincial about it. It is a fairly common practice and is probably a distinction with a large number of Jews in north America.

Who can forget now U.S. Supreme Court justice Elena Kagen’s comment during her confirmation hearings. When asked how she had spent a particular Christmas, she said,
“Well, like most New York Jews, I was probably eating Chinese food and seeing a movie.” Just what many of us do on that secular holiday as well as New Year’s.

Elliot T. says:

I cannot imagine any greater horror than having to eat Americanized “Chinese” food with the people pictured in that photograph.

Patience says:

Just another brand of white person? That’s really inaccurate and insulting not to mention highly inflammatory. Since when do we foster stereotypes which deny the truth that a) Jews were not considered “White” in Europe, b) until somewhat recently Jews weren’t considered “White” in the US, and most importantly, c) many Jews are anything but White! I happen to be such a Jew, and I find it not only astounding that Tablet Magazine would publish such a comment but I find it simply disgusting. Speaking on behalf of myself and many, many friends of mine who are Jews of many colors and backgrounds, I have to say, Shame on Marc, and Shame on Tablet Magazine for endorsing his narrow view. Even in jest, it’s just in poor taste to make such assertions. Thanks a lot Marc for helping to marginalize Jews who don’t fit your narrow stereotype, we really appreciate it.

Lest we not forget the origins of why Corned Beef is served on St. Patrick’s Day. The Jewish Delis on the Lower East Side could not serve ham, as was the Irish custom. Therefore, C.B. (= ersatz ham) became the de facto meat du jour in America.

linda horowitz says:

I have tried to donate to tablet but when i choose the 36 Euro quantity it will not let me finally finish – instead it asks me to choose a gift that I am not actually supposed to qualify for and therefore I give up!!!! was solls…………

mark bernheim says:

The ghetto in Rome is still there, where it’s always been….same location.

merry christmas, chinese style….

Ethel C. Fenig says:

Until recently I never heard of the strange “minhag” of eating Chinese food at Christmas. On that day we ate at home, just like any other time but it was more relaxed because we didn’t have to rush because of school and/or work. Or if we ate out, it was at a kosher restaurant–maybe Chinese, maybe Italian, maybe American. Still do. I also do laundry on December 25–no one else is using the machines, except maybe a few other Jews with the same idea. Is that a new Jewish tradition?
So get over it. Stop being so self conscious about not celebrating another’s holidays and enjoy your own. Or celebrate July 4, Memorial Day or Labor Day with the rest of the country, eat what you want and forget these unnecessary traditions.

Norman Birnbaum says:

Do some Jewish families have exotic adventures in a country apparently unknown to many of them? It is called the United States and its population is about 98 percent non Jewish but, remarkably, claims God’s blessings anyhow. The Gentiles often have strange habits, like inviting Jewish friends and neighbours to Christmas meals—but Tablet’s editors do not appear to have heard of this striking ethnic peculiarity………I hasten to reject the suggestion that I am insufficiently attached to Chinese culture.Now there is a nation everyone can learn from, millennia of unbroken existence and little self doubt …..regards of the season to all Norman Birnbaum

Nice article until the bigoted crack about what is inside the head of a Chinese person.

Merle Day says:

We ate Chinese food on Christmas because they were the only restaurants open on that day 50-60 years ago. It became a tradition out of habit, not because we were hiding something – like pork or shellfish. And the ones we went to didn’t serve milk at all back then.

No hidden meanings. The only place to go, before there were 40 buck buffets.

surfer_dad says:

I’ll buy – to a degree – the notion that Chinese food “pork/shellfish” was easier to digest to formerly kosher keepers.
Interesting.

But this idea that the Jewish/Chinese nexus is the sole result of the Lower East Side is silly.
I’ve proudly been taken to Chinese restaurants by very Jewish citizens of both Lima, Peru and Buenos Aires on different occasions. Needless to say there isn’t any LES connection with these families.

Haven’t checked with them if they go to Chinese restaurants on Christmas though … might be something there too.

To the folks thinking too much about this … get over it. It’s just an interesting phenomenon. My family certainly took part, nearly every year we went out for Chinese on Christmas. It’s just a thing, not a big deal, and yes, interesting (to me).

Lois Baron says:

As a Montrealer, I find the name of his restaurant ironic! It is a great name for we Montrealers who know the meaning of the area “Mile End”. However, the language police in Quebec would slap a fine on the owner for using an English name! Thank goodness the latter’s arm isn’t long enough! Enjoy the smoked meat … A Montreal special!

Arnold Berke says:

Isn’t there also a connection — however dim or remote — with the practice of Jewish ladies playing Mahjongh?

If eating Chinese food on a Christian holiday is a significant assertion of one’s Jewishness, and if a magazine that purports to be a forum for serious discussion of Jewish religion and culture dedicates space to discussing the subject, then I am afraid that the conclusion some drew from the Pew survey is correct: fewer and fewer American Jews will attach themselves to Judaism in a significant and meaningful manner, and Judaism for many American Jews will be a very hallow experience.

Yehoshua k. says:

“Jews are just another brand of white person” i find this particular line to be offensive do to the fact while not so many dark skin Jews are in america there are plenty here in Israel and around the world, including my wonderful wife from southern India, its a good read for kosher style.

Jews should not support Asian Businesses anymore since the Association for Asian American Studies has jumped on the Anti- Israel bandwagon, I know I am going to do all I can to not support Asian Businesses as a result

Nicky McCatty says:

Dude, we are not all White. As a matter of fact, 25% of the Jews in New York are People of Color. Can we please a new pic, not yellowed with acidic paper?

Dvd Avins says:

It is also a celebration of America’s diversity–we’re not so weird for not celebrating Christmas, after all.

Lafcadio says:

Whether it’s knesset member Ben-Ari tearing up a bible, or Roth’s hilarity — “the insides of (Chinese people’s) heads are just so much fried rice,” or the Israeli Military killing three year-old Hala Abu Sabikha on Christmas morning, we can get a good idea of what a “traditional” holiday season means to some! God imagine if any of the above were reversed, with the racism and contempt directed back, there would be an outrage.

RillyKewl says:

Chinese food on Xmas! Yummy.
Always a tradition in my Bklyn-Jewish family.
Many sunday night dinners, as well.
I grew up that way.
Never thought much about it, until Elena Kagen mentioned it in her confirmation hearing. Not sure why, but when she did, my hand went straight to my mouth, thinking uh-oh, she told! As if it were a secret.
Then I just laughed heartily.
That just struck me as hilarious, as if, now they know.
Since then, I given up believing in religion, but not in identity, tribe, nor favorite cuisine. Chinese food is still one of my favorite meals.
Yum, yum!

klafte al akbar says:

There’s a chink of light at the end of every tunnel.

Leah Abrahams says:

Apropos of the season, this is one of my favorite stories: A Midwestern Jew comes to New York and sees a Chinese restaurant with a sign in the window: Yiddish spoken here.

He can’t believe it, so he goes in and the waiter comes over and asks, in perfect Yiddish, “What would you like to order?” The man orders his whole meal in Yiddish and the waiter brings every course, in the correct order, with the variations demanded by the customer.

At the end of the meal, the man demands to see the manager. “How could it be,” he asks, “that you found a Chinese waiter who speaks such perfect Yiddish?!” “Sha,” cautions the manager, whispering, “he thinks I’m teaching him English.”

I’m a Chinese Jew and frankly I find what you say about the Chinese offensive .

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