Who Eats Chinese Food On Christmas?
- Gary Woods
More than a century ago, American Jews began celebrating Christmas with a meal consisting of American Chinese cuisine. Even though COVID-19 is taking place over the holiday season, it is anticipated that the annual feast will be held as normal this year, even though it will most likely be taken in the form of delivery or takeaway food.
- This activity has become so ingrained in culture that it has been lampooned on Saturday Night Live, discussed in scholarly articles, and reaffirmed by Elena Kagan, a justice on the United States Supreme Court.
- Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut, PhD, is the executive director of American Friends of Rabin Medical Center, the rabbi of Metropolitan Synagogue in New York City, and the author of A Kosher Christmas, the leading (and possibly only) comprehensive study on what Jews do during the holiday season.
Rabbi Plaut is considered to be the foremost expert on the practice. Plaut and I had a conversation about having Chinese cuisine for Christmas as well as the reason he used to sit on Santa Claus’s knee. Jews and the holiday of Christmas have been around for quite some time.
When was the first time that Jews asked, “What should we do on Christmas?” and what was the response? Because Jews have always had the perception that they are on the outside looking in, this topic has been debated for as long as Christmas has been celebrated. However, the particular emotions that people experienced were mostly determined by their position in the society.
For example, there was a low level of assimilation among Jews living in Eastern Europe. As a result of the large number of celebrants, many of whom were inebriated, wandering from home to house on Christmas Eve, there was a possibility of violence and pogroms.
- Jews did not attend services in the synagogue in order to learn.
- They remained inside due to concerns over their own safety.
- If they did anything at all, it was probably games of chess or cards.
- After the French Revolution, there was a trend toward greater assimilation of Jews in Western Europe.
- There, they had greater leeway to go about at their leisure, “Should I get a Christmas tree and put it up in my house? Do you have a dinner for the holiday? Do I hand out gifts to people? “Theodor Herzl, one of the founding fathers of Zionism, was a secular Jew who celebrated Christmas by putting up a tree in his salon.
Following the visit from the Chief Rabbi of Vienna, he penned in his journal something along the lines of, “I really hope that this will not cause the Rabbi to have a negative opinion of me. On the other hand, what difference does it make to me what he thinks?” So, let’s start at the beginning: when did the tradition of having Chinese food for Christmas dinner originally start? Is that a custom that’s common among Jewish Americans? Yes.
- It all starts at the tail end of the 19th century on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, when Jewish and Chinese immigrants lived in close quarters with one another.
- The American Hebrew publication condemned Jews for eating at non-kosher restaurants in 1899, which is when the very first time that dining in a Chinese restaurant was mentioned in relation to Jews living in the United States.
By the year 1936, a journal known as the East Side Chamber News had claimed that there were at least 18 Chinese tea gardens and chop suey cafes in densely populated Jewish areas. All of these locations were within a short distance of walking to Ratner’s, which at the time was considered to be the most well-known Jewish dairy restaurant in Manhattan.
On Sundays, when they felt excluded from the church lunch, Jews would instead eat out at Chinese restaurants. It was a slow shift from the traditional diet of Eastern Europe to eating food from China in the United States, and then to eating food from other pan-Asian cuisines, such as Indian food. I like to claim that within a hundred years of the typical Jew’s arrival in New York, they were more familiar with sushi than gefilte fish.
This is something I like to say. Over the course of the past 35 years, Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the United States has evolved into a kind of makeshift community where Jews may go to celebrate the holiday with their friends and family.
- It is a moment to shut off Christmas and reveal your Jewish identity in a secure atmosphere, but it is also a secular way to enjoy Christmas.
- Aside from its accessibility, was there any factor that led to the Jewish population’s preference for Chinese cuisine over that of other immigrant cuisines? When it comes to keeping kosher rules, eating at a Chinese restaurant is far less risky than eating at an Italian restaurant.
Meat and dairy products are frequently combined in Italian cuisine. Because dairy products are rarely used in Chinese cuisine, a Chinese restaurant will not combine meat and dairy products in their dishes. When it comes to Chinese-American cuisine, pork is frequently hidden inside other ingredients, such as wontons, in order to maintain its authenticity.
Many Jews, both back then and even now, observe kosher laws strictly within their homes but are more lax with regard to the items they consume in dining establishments. Gaye Tuchman, a sociologist, has written extensively on this topic. She identified herself as a trustworthy person. Because it was hidden from their view, many Jews regarded the pig that was used in Chinese cuisine to be acceptable treyf.
That made it simpler to chew and swallow. During the course of your research for this book, did you come across anything that was published from the perspective of a Chinese-American regarding Chinese cuisine and Christmas? I was able to locate a citation from the year 1935 that was published in the New York Times regarding a man by the name of Eng Shee Chuck who owned a restaurant and donated chow mein to the Jewish Children’s Home on Christmas Day.
- If you were to conduct an interview with the proprietors of Chinese restaurants, they would tell you that Christmas is their busiest day of the year, with the exception of perhaps the New Year’s holiday.
- However, if you want a more in-depth comprehension, you should certainly visit Chinatown and chat to some of the proprietors of the restaurants there.
On Christmas Day, my family and I almost usually go to the movies, but we do occasionally order Chinese cuisine. When did that begin to be done as a Jewish Christmas tradition in the first place? When Jews first started moving to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, between the years 1880 and 1920, they were destitute immigrants who had just arrived in the United States.
- They were forced to labor in unsanitary conditions and lived in overcrowded tenements.
- They would spend their free time going to the recently opened nickelodeons in the area.
- They were able to see a very early version of a movie for a price ranging from one cent up to five cents.
- By the year 1909, there were 42 nickelodeons in the area around the Lower East Side, and 10 of them were located uptown in Jewish Harlem.
Christmas was treated like any other day off back then, which is why early movies were able to draw in such large crowds. According to reports that appeared in the Yiddish press, the premiere of a new Yiddish theatrical show frequently took place on Christmas Day.
It was a day off from work, so the question now is: what do you do with your time? You have the option of remaining at home, as well as visiting local nickelodeons or Yiddish theaters. After many years had passed, you would finally be able to visit a Chinese restaurant for a lunch. What kinds of traditions do you often observe on Christmas? This book was the subject of my studies for many years.
This year, I’ll be spending the holidays with my family in a more rural area, and there won’t be any decent restaurants open. We will probably either watch something on Netflix or play a board game. When you were younger, how did you spend Christmas? Never once did you find me at a Chinese eatery.
After a fun time on the ice in front of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, we would warm up with some hot chocolate topped with marshmallows. I have many wonderful recollections of Christmas. When I was little, my mother would take me to visit Santa Claus and let me sit on his lap. I asked her that question when I was writing this book.
“Why would you take me — the son of a rabbi! — to sit on Santa Claus’s lap?” I questioned. She stated that “Everyone in America does it, so why shouldn’t we?” in response to my question. She was aware that I had no issues with my Jewish identity.
Do people eat Chinese food on Christmas Day?
When and why did Jews begin celebrating Christmas with cuisine from Chinese restaurants? NPR’s Robert Siegel talks to Rabbi Joshua Plaut about this holiday custom, so get your chopsticks ready and dig in while you listen to their conversation. HOST ROBERT SIEGEL, speaking: What is the one thing that a Jew can do that is the most American during the Christmas season? To answer your question, the answer is work for me.
Allow one extra person who celebrates Christmas to have the day off. On the other hand, when it comes time to order lunch on Christmas Day, I follow the example of a large number of people who share my religious beliefs and order Chinese food. The consumption of Chinese food on Christmas has become as traditional for American Jews as the baking of apple pies.
In addition, as part of our investigation into the customs surrounding the holidays, we have welcomed Rabbi Joshua Plaut into our studios. The title of his book is “A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish,” and he wrote it. You’ve been accepted into the program.
- JOSHUA PLAUT: I’m excited to be here.
- Thank you.
- SIEGEL: You have a chapter in the book titled “We Eat Chinese Food on Christmas,” and it is located in the book.
- How much time has passed since this began? According to The New York Times, the tradition has been going on since at least 1935, when a man by the name of Eng Shee Chuck brought chow mein on Christmas Day to the Jewish Children’s Home in Newark, New Jersey.
PLAUT: At the very least, since 1935. That is the very earliest written reference to Jewish people celebrating Christmas with food from China. SIEGEL: Depending on how you choose to look at it, it’s either the discovery of Chinese food by Jews on Christmas or the finding of Jewish consumers by a Chinese restaurant on Christmas.
PLAUT: Probably a little bit of both. SIEGEL: Probably a little bit of both. And this is how it has progressed. Over the course of the years, this has evolved into a rather standard practice. Yes, Mr. PLAUT. Actually, the relationship between Jews and Chinese restaurants dates back to 1899, when a publication called the American Jewish Journal criticized Jews for eating at non-kosher restaurants and singled out, in particular, Jews who flocked to Chinese restaurants.
The criticism was directed toward Jews who ate at Chinese restaurants. Therefore, the union of Jewish culture and Chinese cuisine can be traced all the way back to the time when both Jewish people and Chinese people were newcomers to the United States.
SIEGEL: This brings up an interesting point about a phrase that is occasionally used to describe Chinese cuisine: “safe trayf.” This phrase uses the Hebrew word for food that is not kosher, which is trayf. What exactly is going on here? Jews dining in Chinese restaurants are unknowingly consuming a variety of non-kosher culinary items, such as shellfish and pig products, which are masked as wontons or eggrolls.
You are therefore allowed to indulge in this delightful cuisine without having to worry about unintentionally consuming a food item that is not kosher. In addition, milk is never used at dishes served in Chinese restaurants. Therefore, here is a location where you may go to consume food that appears to be acceptable and kosher but is not in fact, and you can do so with a grin on your face and take pleasure in it without feeling bad about it.
SIEGEL: (Laughter) As you record in this chapter of your book, by the 1950s, the draw of Chinese cuisine on Christmas Day – when we should say the Chinese restaurants were open, which is no minor thing that – the fascination became into the stuff of, to use the technical phrase, schtick. SIEGEL: (Laughter) It was fuel for the body as well as for the body’s sense of humor, right? Yes, Mr.
PLAUT. It was brought up in sketches on television with Alan King and Buddy Hackett, respectively. On the Caesar Comedy Hour, Sid Caesar made a joke about it, making fun of or making a caricature out of Jews sitting in Chinese restaurants and being unable to order food or interact with the wait staff.
It is highly amusing that Philip Roth mentions in “Portnoy’s Complaint” how Chinese restaurant proprietors believed that Jews and English with a Yiddish accent were speaking the King’s English. Roth’s discussion is very humorous. SIEGEL: So if one were to go there, they would get the impression that they were quite well established in the Chinese restaurant? In all candor, PLAUT: On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the local Chinese restaurant served as a sanctuary of refuge for American Jews who experienced feelings of being on the outside.
When you eat at a Chinese restaurant, you instantly become part of the in-crowd. Since it is possible to celebrate someone else’s birthday while still being surrounded by friends, family, and other members of the tribe, an outsider can become an insider over the Christmas holiday.
SIEGEL: So, do you have any traditions associated with Christmas Day that include eating Chinese food? PUT: No, I don’t think so. As the son of a rabbi, when I was a kid growing up in Great Neck I often went to visit Santa Claus and sit on his knee. When I was a kid, my family and I would get dressed up and walk around our neighborhood in Great Neck to see the pretty lights that had been strung up on the trees.
After that, we’d head over to Rockefeller Center for some ice skating fun. And I questioned my mother afterwards, while I was working on this book, how she could have taken me out to sit on Santa Claus’s knee when I was the son of a major rabbi and civil rights leader? And she responded with a why not? Everyone in America did that, and you didn’t feel any different about being Jewish because of it.
Therefore, there is no reason not to enjoy the Christmas season. SIEGEL: (Laughter) I see. I see. And to continue your mother’s vision and wisdom forward, there is absolutely nothing wrong with non-Jewish American Christian families enjoying some Chinese food on Christmas as well. This is something that your mother would have approved of.
PLAUT: I believe that we have become a screaming tradition similar to that of “Fiddler on the Roof.” It’s become somewhat of a holiday custom in the United States to celebrate Christmas with Chinese food. And it’s simply something that’s evolved into a tradition that’s associated with the Christmas season.
And it’s part of the joyous season that – it’s one of our modest contributions as Jews living in America to the way of life here in the United States. SIEGEL: Well, Rabbi Joshua Plaut, a very sincere thank you and best wishes for the holiday season. PLAUT: I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Wonderful and Peaceful New Year.
Copyright is owned by NPR as of 2017. We reserve all of our rights. For further information, please see the permissions and conditions of use pages on our website, which may be found at www.npr.org. An NPR contractor works under intense time pressure to provide transcripts for the broadcaster.
Why Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas?
I am grateful to you, kind benefactor! Because to your generosity, Wikipedia is able to continue to thrive. You can choose to “hide appeals” to prevent this browser from displaying fundraising messages for one week, or you can return to the appeal to make a donation if you are still interested in doing so.
- Please, we beg you, do not scroll away from this page. Hi.
- Let’s cut to the chase and get to the point: On Thursday, we will be asking for your assistance in maintaining Wikipedia.98% of those who read our site do not donate.
- Many people have the intention of donating later, but they end up forgetting.
To ensure our continued existence, all we ask for is $2, or anything else you can provide. We beg you, in all modesty, to refrain from scrolling away from this page. If you are one of our very few donors, please accept our sincere gratitude. Throughout the 20th century, there was a rise in the number of Jewish Americans dining at Chinese restaurants, particularly within the Jewish community of New York.
It has gotten attention as a paradoxical type of assimilation by adopting a foreign cuisine that made it easier to consume items that are not kosher. This has garnered a lot of attention. The relative lack of dairy products in comparison to European cuisines, the fear of antisemitic governments in Germany and Italy throughout the 1930s, and the close proximity of Jewish and Chinese immigrants to one other in New York City are all factors that contributed to this phenomenon.
The practice of American Jews to celebrate Christmas or Christmas Eve by going to Chinese restaurants is a common stereotype that is often portrayed in film and television. However, this stereotype does have a factual basis, as the tradition may have originated due to the dearth of other restaurants that were open on Christmas Day.
Can kosher people eat pork?
The Different Categories of Kosher Food – It all starts out really easily. There are three different types of foods that are considered to be kosher: meat, dairy, and “pareve,” which is also occasionally written “parve.” Meat, Kosher meat comes from animals like cows, lambs, and goats that have split hooves and chew their cud in order to maintain their dietary integrity.
- When these kinds of animals eat, food that has only been half digested, known as cud, travels back from the stomach to the mouth for them to continue chewing.
- Pigs, for instance, have hammertoes, but they don’t really chew the cud that they produce.
- So pork isn’t kosher.
- The manner of slaughtering and processing animals, as well as the tools used in slaughterhouses, are governed by Jewish dietary law.
If the animal died of natural causes, the meat cannot be considered kosher. There are several elements of an animal that are never considered kosher, including as certain types of fat, nerves, and the whole blood supply. Dairy, Milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese are examples of dairy products that are required to originate from kosher animals.
It is necessary for both the ingredients and the machinery that are utilized in its production to be kosher. Pareve, This is the section for kosher foods that do not include either meat or dairy products. It includes things like eggs and salmon in addition to things like fruits, vegetables, pasta, and packaged meals.
It also includes things like coffee. There are other levels of legal requirements that lie beneath these three. Just a handful of them are as follows: You can’t consume milk and meat items at the same time, put them on the same plates, or prepare or eat them using the same utensils since the proteins in the milk and meat products might react with each other.
- It is also recommended that you wait a specific length of time before consuming milk after eating meat, and vice versa.
- Salmon, bass, and trout are all examples of kosher fish since they possess both fins and scales on their bodies.
- Those marine organisms are not considered kosher that lack both fins and scales.
Shellfish, crabs, shrimp, and lobster are all included in this category. Only a few few cheeses may be considered kosher. This is due to the fact that they contain an enzyme known as rennet, which is derived from the stomachs of cows. Rennet derived from animals is not permitted in kosher cheese.
Do people eat Chinese food on Thanksgiving?
Going back to my origins – And as a result, even before the pandemic, we went back to my roots and continued having the Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant. The restaurant Thanksgiving dinner is not to be confused with the tradition of the restaurant Christmas dinner, which is another one of the Duan family’s annual traditions.
Are restaurants usually busy on Christmas Eve?
Restaurant Sales on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – We anticipated that restaurant sales would decline on these two days since more people would be staying home to prepare their own meals; however, we were unsure by how much this would occur. The night before Christmas was busier than Christmas Day itself, which may be due to the fact that the 25th of December is the holiday recognized by the government, not the 24th.