Christmas, Jewish-Style: Chinese Food & Movies


Not surprisingly, my Jewish family doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Nor ornamented pine trees, nor any other merry symbols of Christianity (though I do have a weakness for red and green M&Ms). So when December 25th rolls around, we follow a Christmas tradition that has nothing to do with nativity scenes or midnight mass: dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, followed by a movie.

Chinese restaurants on Christmas day resemble synagogues on Yom Kippur—they’re packed to capacity with the Jewish community. Only instead of books in hand, we have chopsticks, and instead of praying, we’re eating. We treat the Tiger Bowl like a communal dining room, chatting and joking with the other Jewish families over platters brimming with vegetable dumplings, crispy sea bass, moo shoo vegetables, and string beans with garlic sauce. Even though the same scenario plays out year after year, the main topic of conversation inevitably revolves around our genuine shock at seeing everyone there—as if it’s never, ever happened before. I’m pretty sure we can stop calling it a coincidence at this point.

And each year we all act like it’s an extension of the Hanukah miracle when, having parted ways following dinner, everyone runs into one another again hours later at the same theater at the same time to see the same movie, popcorn and candy in hand. Although in retrospect, we really shouldn’t have been that surprised when the 9 p.m. screening of Life is Beautiful sold out back in 1998 because so many of us showed up.

Are there any mysteries or deep-seated ties to this tradition? None at all. We’re not being lazy or shirking our cooking responsibilities. We’ve already had our celebration—eight magnificent, indulgent days of it. The fact is that when Christmas rolls around, Chinese restaurants and movie theaters are just about the only places that remain open. We Jews want to do something special, too. And you know us. So much the better if we can eat when we get there.—Jenna Levy

Here are just a few recipes Jenna’s family enjoys. If you spend Christmas day at a Chinese restaurant, what are some of your favorite yuletide dishes?–LC Editors

Chinese Recipes for Christmas Day



  1. Chinese Christmas is awsome! We had it for the first time this year, with the bacalhau (cod) for the older crowd. But by the end of the night we had a few older converts to Chinese Christmas!

  2. The Kung Pao chicken dish above is almost making me wish I were Jewish. Ah, well. It would have been a nicer Christmas dinner if I’d been at a Chinese Restaurant, as my sister-in-law ruined the day once again. Next year, we’re not going through it. We’re eating out. So next year maybe a nice Chinese Restaurant, where all the great Jewish folks gather. So if you see some Gentiles there it may be me and a few members of my family. Hahahaha…

    1. Lauralee, join the party! I’m sure your local Chinese restaurant (and your local Jewish community) will appreciate seeing some new faces 🙂

  3. I also grew up with the Chinese food and movie tradition; although, I noticed some of my Christian friends started to join in, so perhaps it has become ecumenical. Unfortunately, I live in an area with a dearth of Chinese food. This Christmas day we will have to try your wok-fried pea shoots (I love those), and watch Netflix. We did go to two Christmas parties last evening, and my children, who go to Jewish Day School, led the “Rudolph, the Red Nose Reindeer” caroling. Have a delicious holiday to one and all.

    1. Lael, it’s sometimes hard to resist that Christmas cheer; those songs are just so catchy! Enjoy creating your own Chinese + a movie night!

      1. I know what you mean about catchy songs to celebrate. I am not Jewish but cannot resist listening to Candlelight: The Maccabeats – Hanukkah. These young men and this song are wonderful. I am grateful to get to share celebrations.

        1. Penny, I hadn’t heard of The Maccabeats before, but I just listened – fantastic! I’ll have to remember to dig this up for Hanukah next year. Thanks!

          1. I am so glad that you like them too! They are just so darn cute besides the obvious talent.

      2. We ate leftovers and watched both Ace Ventura movies in pjs with a fire blazing.
        This morning we sang Adon Olam to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”.

  4. Eating Chinese food on Christmas was always my family’s tradition, too. In the small city where we lived, there was only one Chinese restaurant, and on Christmas it would be packed with all of the Jewish families of my friends. It always felt like our own private party.

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