A traditional Christmas is beginning, the whole town is expected to shut down. The stores will be closed; the LIE will be wide open; kids will be at home peeking through the blinds looking for a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer; not a creature will be stirring…Well, except for Chinese restaurants and their Jewish patrons. Every year, the Jewish community enjoys their favorite Chinese establishment’s fare on Christmas…and it has become quite the tradition.
While it’s not prescribed in Jewish texts that we do anything on Christmas, let alone eat our weight in eggrolls and chow fun, New York Jews have a long history of breaking out the chopsticks in late December while their non-Jewish brethren are slicing into honey-glazed ham.
This tradition dates back to New York City circa 1899. Part of the early appeal of Chinese restaurants lay in the fact that the eateries, unlike many Italian establishments, lacked Christian iconography in their decor. At the turn of the 20th century, Jewish immigrants and Chinese immigrants found themselves huddled together in proximity on Manhattan’s lower east side. They had one thing in common: neither group celebrated Christmas. So, the Chinese kept their restaurants open – and the Jews ate their food.
And what a thing It became….
While the time-honored custom of wonton soup during yuletide has its origins in New York City, it is now a national habit for American Jewry. As Jews spread throughout the country, Chinese restaurateurs followed some of their best patrons out to the suburbs.
Now, for over a century, American Jews have eaten American Chinese food on Christmas. This pastime has evolved to a near-holy tradition, parodied on Saturday Night Live, analyzed in academic papers, and reaffirmed by a Supreme Court Justice.
Adam Novak is a 2nd Generation Jewish Funeral Director & Founding Partner of Jerusalem Memorial Chapels. He can be reached any time (24/7) via phone/text at (516) 418-7000 or email email@example.com