A Very Jewish Christmas Eve

My family is religiously a mixed bag – my mother was Jewish from birth and my father converted to Catholicism in college. While these two may seem wildly different, they coexist nicely in the household. My family celebrates an assortment of different holidays from both faiths. On my moms side, we host Passover and Hanukkah parties, and on my fathers we hunt for Easter eggs and celebrate Christmas as a family.

                  Christmas is generally seen as a Christian holiday, but over the decades the holiday has become just as cultural to America as a whole as it is to Christians. The culture of decking the tree, singing carols, and giving out gifts while wearing sweaters, not to mention Santa Clause, have permeated the deepest roots of our society to become something more than religion. It’s not surprising that some non-Christian Christmas traditions have grown here.

                  The Jewish tradition for Christmas is the one I’m most familiar with. On Christmas Eve, many Jewish families will go out to watch the latest blockbuster movie and go out for Chinese food, and some will do volunteer service on Christmas. This odd tradition seems to have started in 1899, where the first Jewish Chinese food eaters went out on Christmas for a bite. The movie watching tradition also began in the early 1900’s, when Jewish immigrants had a day off of work for a holiday they didn’t celebrate and nothing to do but go to the movies. The volunteerism acts as just another way Jews can use their spare time that day, but this allows them to give back on a day when many citizens have a religious observance and can’t or won’t volunteer.

                  But my family, being both Jewish and Catholic, have an interesting twist on this tradition. Ever since I was in elementary school, we would get fancied up for church on Christmas Eve. I often wore little velvet dresses and poinsettia headbands – you know the stuff. We went to our early church service and afterwards we would rush back home, change into some more casual attire, and drive half an hour to an incredible Chinese food buffet where we met up with our close family friends (also Jewish) and had a wonderful meal.

                  This tradition of church followed by Chinese is something we still do to this day, and it has a lot of meaning for me. While I may not be staunchly Catholic or Jewish, the tradition of mixing both together has a special place in my heart as a way for both my parents to celebrate their culture that night, and a way for me to experience both of the religions I grew up with.

 

Sarah is a freshman studying Theatrical Design and Production at Carnegie Mellon University. One day she hopes to design costumes for Star Wars and Marvel films or television programs, but for now you can find her in her free time hanging out in her dorm drawing or watching TV, trying out a new mug cake recipe, or reading her latest National Geographic issue. You can follow her on Instagram at @theocqueen to see all her latest doodles and sketches.

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