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Not Just Chinese Food and Movies

Wednesday, December 25, 2013
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Some Jews have a tradition of volunteering at a soup kitchen on Christmas so employees who celebrate the holiday can be with their families.

Dear Readers,

This week, I departed from my usual role answering questions to pose one instead. I asked friends to share their favorite "being Jewish on Christmas" stories and got great responses. Some years, Chinese food and a movie is the best possible scenario. But that's not the total sum of the Jewish experience of Christmas, and I wanted to go beyond the expected. I even wanted to go beyond the great realization I had a few years ago that not only are Chinese restaurants open on Christmas, but Indian restaurants are, too! 

I heard from a lot of people about volunteering to work on Christmas so that others could be home with their families. Doctors and other health care professionals wrote about offering to trade shifts with their colleagues. Others told me about their tradition of volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter to help provide those in need with food and a warm place to be on the holiday while allowing Christian employees to be at home. My less altruistic version as a Jewish kid in a very non-Jewish town: I made some serious money babysitting on Christmas Eve so families could go to mass together. (I also volunteered in a soup kitchen on Christmas Day, so I wasn't just looking out for myself entirely.)

A friend of mine was born on Christmas, and her New York grandparents created the most remarkable fantasy for a Jewish kid on December 25: Every year, they told her that Park Avenue was lit up for her birthday! While she laughed at her own willingness to believe the story, I wished for the chance to provide the same magical experience for my own kids.

I also heard plenty of stories about Jews finding opportunities to celebrate Christmas, whether with family or friends or just going out to enjoy lights and festivities around town. One friend told me that her mother loves Christmas carols, so every year she accompanies a widowed friend to mass. The friend has company for her celebration, and my friend's mom has an excuse to enjoy the music.

The next anecdote is so fascinating and unexpected that there is no segue: Some Hasidic Jews observe Christmas as a quasi day of mourning called Nittel Nacht. Torah study is forbidden so they play chess and do secular tasks instead. You should definitely read this article about it. You should also check out this secret from Postsecret.

Jews writing about their Christmas experiences seems to be a hot topic on the blogosphere this year, so I wanted to share a few pieces that stuck out to me:

My colleague, Rabbi Mike Uram, shares his take on the "War on Christmas."

In Tablet Magazine, Alison Pick writes about how Christmas helped her discover and embrace her family's Jewish roots.

Finally, in my very short round-up of this genre, Slate featured an article by a Jewish woman who misses Christmas since her Christian grandmother passed away.

Whatever you decide to do today, I hope it's fun, and I mean that in the plainest, most simplistic way. The vast majority of our friends and neighbors are celebrating today, and, unless you're observing Nittel Nacht, we may as well enjoy ourselves, too. 

Be well,
Miriam

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