Why Do Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas?


Interesting article but I recall one of the main reasons being that, where I live(d), Chinese restaurants were really the only ones open on Christmas.


That may be a thing for American Jews but I doubt it’s the case for British Jews. I imagine many will be pretty comfortable eating the traditional turkey meal on Xmas Day or, at least, a variation of same. If they do eat out, they’ve really a couple of choices. First, go to a restaurant serving the turkey meal (always an eye-wateringly expensive lunch - I have no religious faith but baulk at the cost of those lunches, much as I’d like to try them one year. ). Or, they go to a South Asian place, along with their Muslim neighbours who are also avoiding the turkey. South Asian restaurants (and takeaways) will often be open on Xmas Day, whereas their Chinese equivalents are generally closed.

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Interesting perspective re South Asian vs Chinese. When I was growing up Chinese restaurants were pretty much the only ‘Asian’ restaurants of any kind. For my generation that just stuck as what you’d have on Christmas, but today there are more places open in general I think. Here it was all takeout this year due to Covid. The one great Chinese place we’ve found is Halal anyway. On Christmas Eve I called but the wait was almost two hours for an order. On Christmas Day I made prime rib so it wasn’t an issue.

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In my earlier life I had a lot of brushes with Jewish folks (including my first wife) so this is a topic with which I have some familiarity.

I think the answer is really simpler than the article suggests.

Chinese people, at least back in the day, weren’t typically Christian, had their restaurants open every day, and had no reason to close on Xmas. Further, most of their competition was closed that day. Jewish people are known for a liking of Chinese food, generally weren’t working on Xmas day since their businesses and occupations were’t likely open because there were few customers, and so it was a perfect day for the family to eat out for enjoyment (keep in mind that Chinese restaurants are among the few typically open on Xmas day). Moreover, since there were no other customers in Chinese restaurants on Xmas day, there was not much problem for large numbers to get in. So it was just natural and good sense for the family to go out for Chinese on Xmas. So Jews did just that, and it soon became a recognized (though perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek) “tradition.”

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I think it’s simply a local custom that developed by accident, and in which “local” accidentally became wide enough for the custom to gain some recognition.

Plus it’s not THAT far back in history that small towns in America contained more of the population than they do now, and in the majority of those small towns at that time, there were “regular” restaurants and “Chinese” restaurants, and that was really all.

That’s a very watered down perspective.


I’m sorry @DavidPF, i don’t see it that way at all either. Perhaps you are younger than me, I have no way of knowing. In my experience, growing up in the western part of the US, and in small towns, I can tell you, Chinese restaurants were pretty exotic, and not that prevalent, either. They did exist, however. As far as Jewish populations, go, they were extremely sparse, again IME, only. I always thought of the Christmas Day Chinese restaurant experiences for Jewish folks, to be happening in the bigger cities only. YMMV, of course. Just thinking now, there were places I’ve lived where all was closed on holidays, Chinese restaurants not withstanding.

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I’m the first to admit that I don’t know much about Jews and Chinese food. But I do think it makes sense that Jews gravitated towards Chinese establishments because they felt like they were in the same boat. Not well liked. And all those Italian places sported crosses and Jesus stuff. I think what it really comes down to nowadays and even importantly back then. Chinese restaurants were the only places open.

I think there’s an unsolvable chicken vs egg problem regarding whether convenience & coincidence started this thing, or whether an interesting relationship or bond between people started it. But between those two things, the relationship enduringly matters, while the convenience probably doesn’t matter as much anymore. “What started it” and “Why is it important” aren’t the same question at all.

This does feed into my perception of it being a local phenomenon rather than a more general one.

(I grew up in a very small town where there happened not to be any Jewish people, any Chinese people, or any kind of restaurant at all.)

True, I think, to my mind, “local” refers to a lot of non-descript sorts of places, but of course I agree, that could be anywhere, including large cities.

It’s funny how I sometimes equate local to smaller town places. Not sure why, could just be my particular frame of reference, @DavidPF.

In contrast to where I grew up, New York is indeed very descript. :slight_smile: But a New York thing that doesn’t happen in other major (or minor) world cities is still local.

That wasn’t and isn’t true.

If the cooking weren’t any good, you wouldn’t go to eat at any place, Chinese or not. So, we’d vote: "and besides, they serve really delicious . . . "

There was plenty of discrimination against Italian and Irish immigrants, too. So the banding together of the “not well-liked” doesn’t really hold water, if you limit it to only two groups.

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From a very few but interesting comments it seems fair to suggest our own background and exposure/personal experience with cultural history, including food culture, is a drop in a very large bucket.

I continue to learn every time!


I think there tends to be discrimination when there are large groups of migrants. In my own metro area, that’s well documented about Irish and Italian migrants in the mid 19th century, East European Jews in the latter part of that century, Caribbean people in the 1950s and South Asians in the 1970s.

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