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What Jews do on Christmas


December 14, 2016

Let’s play Jeopardy.

Alex Trebek: “Holidays for $100. Watch a new release movie and then go out to eat at a Chinese restaurant.”

Contestant’s correct response: “What do Jews do on Christmas Day?”

This is a common joke, yet it’s rooted in truth.

While not all Jewish families have this tradition, a noticeable number do.

Growing up in a Jewish household in the ‘60s in Southern California, on Christmas Day more often than not my parents would take my sister, two brothers, and me out to see the latest new blockbuster movie, then have dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant.

Occasionally, they’d mix things up, and we’d go to Disneyland instead where we’d be able to enjoy “E Ticket” rides multiple times because the lines were so short – something that was impossible the other 364 days of the year.

The point here is that even though Jews aren’t observing a religious holiday on December 25th, there’s no denying in American society the day is different from all other days.

In acceptance of the uniqueness of December 25th, many Jewish families have developed Christmas Day traditions that are just as durable as those related to the religious observances of the holiday.

There are other common Christmas Day Jewish traditions that do not involve seeing the latest Star Wars movie or eating Kung Pao chicken.

Many Jewish physicians make it a point to be on call on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so their Christian colleagues can observe the holiday and spend uninterrupted time with their families.

Similarly, many of the people you see working on Christmas Day at businesses that don’t close are Jewish because they volunteered to work so their Christian co-workers could take the day off.

You may even see Temple Beth Or members at local churches on Christmas Eve and Day helping with child care so church members can sit with their families during services.

This year there’s an added complexity to the situation since in 2016 the first night of Hanukah coincides with Christmas Eve.

Jewish Hanukah traditions and Christmas traditions are much different and really don’t mix well together.

While Hanukah is mainly celebrated at home, a common tradition is to have Hanukah parties on the first night of the holiday.

This not only complicates efforts to help Christians have the night off, but really complicates things in families where one spouse is Jewish and the other is Christian, such is the case with mine.

Complicated, maybe. Insurmountable, absolutely not.

While other similarly-situated families may not solve the issue like ours, we’re going to a Hanukah party to light the first candle in the menorah after sunset on Dec. 24th, and on Christmas Day we will be gathering with my wife’s father, sisters, nieces and nephews to celebrate.

I know I’ll be enjoying our family’s Christmas traditions this year despite the conflict. It’s my hope you will, too, whether you’re going to church or to the Golden House for a tasty meal.

Glen Pickus is a member of Temple Beth Or, the Jewish synagogue serving Snohomish County. The synagogue is at 3215 Lombard Ave. For more information, visit


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