Why Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

A story of two othered cultures finding community around food

2 mins read
Image by Anthony Hardy from Pixabay

Merry Christmas, it’s time for my annual retelling of my favorite Christmas story: Why Jews eat Chinese food on Xmas.

It’s a cultural tradition dating back almost 100 years and originates where almost all of America’s immigrant stories begin: On the Lower East Side of Manhattan*.

Back then Jews and Chinese were both communities that were being “othered” in America. To Americans their languages were strange, their traditions were strange, and they were outsiders. And no one felt this more then on Xmas when the entire city would shut down.

But, like Jews, most Chinese folks did not celebrate Xmas. So they kept their restaurants open and welcomed Jews to come eat dinner with open arms. It was a moment of two cultural “others” finding solidarity and community when the rest of the country made them feel like outsiders

And to this day American Jews across the country carry on the tradition because, believe it or not, both of our communities are still being othered – especially on Xmas.

In fact Chinese food is now so central to American Judaism some joke (because the Chinese calendar begins 1000 years after the Hebrew calendar) that one of our great tragedies is we had to survive 1000 years without Chinese food.

So that’s my favorite Xmas story about a tradition that was born out of two immigrant and othered cultures finding community around food.

For those asking about kosher the theory goes that because a lot of the forbidden foods like pork are chopped up and mixed into Chinese food it was an opportunity to cheat because you could theoretically say you didn’t know better.

And in modern times NYC actually has A LOT of kosher Chinese restaurants.

*Obviously I’m not being literal when I say almost all immigrant stories started on the lower east side. I’m just being silly and indicating that a shit ton started there. Of course MANY MANY immigrant stories happened across the entire country because that’s what America is!!

Originally posted on Twitter. Re-posted with permission.

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Freelance Science Journalist - National Geographic, BBC, Scientific American, NBC News, PopSci, Gizmodo, Earther, Dame, WIRED and others. Fact Checker.

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