Jewish Christmases I Have Known

While the rest of the world gather around their twinkling Christmas trees to open presents or sit down to the table for a sumptuous Christmas goose (I don’t know), it’s hard for Jewish or otherwise-identifying people to keep from feeling… well, a little left out. Before Halloween has even passed us by, the aisles of every convenience store are lined with tinsel and wreaths, and it’s only a matter of time before the entire world seems obsessed with a holiday that the rest of us have little use for — and almost everything’s closed, besides movie theatres and Chinese restaurants. Here are some of the ways I’ve spent the 25th of December, presented chronologically.


I am four, and my best friend Jessica lives right across the street. Jessica has a beautiful Christmas tree loaded with beautiful ornaments and candy canes, which I’ve just discovered are my favourite thing ever. Jessica is really excited because Santa Claus is coming to visit her with all his reindeer, and there will be presents under the tree to reward her for good behaviour. All of this sounds amazing, until Jessica informs me that “Santa will never visit your house, because you don’t believe right.” As a little Jewish kid, I continue to tragically believe in Santa for many years, and this particular year I genuinely imagine that I hear sleighbells ringing directly over my house, en route to the houses of all the little goyem on the block.

1991 (or so)

My aunt owns a party store in New Jersey, and every year the town has a Christmas parade on Black Friday. The streets are always packed with families, which is great for local businesses. Even though Halloween has just passed, my aunt recruits me and my cousins to dress up in costumes and walk around, drumming up business for the store. Inside, my very Jewish grandparents dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus, because (as they put it) why the hell not? My grandfather gets a kick out of little kids sitting on his lap, utterly convinced that he’s the real deal. Everything is ridiculous. They will do this every single year for my entire childhood.


Oy vei.


I am twelve years old, and I’ve just had vesicoureteral reflux surgery (it was gross, don’t ask). My parents scheduled it over my Christmas break so I wouldn’t miss too much schoolwork. I’m bored out of my mind in my hospital bed, hooked up to a gazillion machines and high as a kite on morphine. Santa Claus rolls through, visiting all the sick kids and bringing them hand-held Sonic the Hedgehog games. I wonder if I’m hallucinating (I usually am), and jokingly ask Santa why he’s never visited me before. Somewhere, there’s a Polaroid of us together; he stands over me in my hospital bed, characteristically jolly in his standard red suit. I’m so pale that my face matches the starched white hospital pillowcase beneath me. The Sonic the Hedgehog game kinda sucks. Santa never visits me again.


I am seventeen, and I am visiting Internet friends in Canada for the holidays — my very first time outside the country. My friend Kat and I have planned on exchanging presents, but I realize I was completely unprepared for them to be presented to me underneath a tree. Because of this, it officially counts as my very first actual Christmas, and I’m touched by the lengths she and her mother go to to make me feel included. We get these slippers:



I try to go to my parents’ for Christmas, but inevitably we get into an argument and I end up taking the bus back to Spanish Harlem. On the way home, I notice the Indian restaurant on the corner is open. I order takeout and spend the evening with my roommate’s ragdoll cat, a bowl of bhindi masala and Dreamgirls on HBO. To this day, it remains my favourite Christmas of all time.


I genuinely keep trying to do the Jewish Christmas thing with my parents — Chinese food at their favourite spot at some absurdly early hour, and then a movie, usually of their choosing. We bring my adorable 91-year-old grandmother, who’s a huge fan of romantic comedies and other standard chick flicks. She desperately wants to see Black Swan; she heard it’s a very good movie about a ballet dancer. I have already seen Black Swan and don’t think my sweet grandmother would appreciate it, but she speaks glowingly of that nice Jewish girl Natalie Portman and what a smart, lovely young thing she is. Did you know she was born in Israel? Did you know she went to Harvard? I beg her to reconsider, and eventually we end up going to see The King’s Speech, which is boring if inoffensive. Later, my grandmother will make my parents take her to Black Swan and she will leave me a scathing voicemail, furious about how anyone could make such an offensive picture. She describes it as a “porno.” She will not accept my I-told-you-so.


I’ve recently broken up with a serious girlfriend, and have rebounded with a beautiful, whip-smart babe from Texas who I met on OKCupid. We have little in common beyond a love of stiff drinks, but the whole thing’s still new enough that none of this matters. We spend the entire weekend together, wasted and infatuated. I giddily introduce her to my friends over Thai food, and even invite them to join us for a movie — The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I haven’t read the books, but the girl chose the movie and it sounds interesting I guess? My friends both politely decline our invitation, but undeterred we march into the theatre, clasping hands. I buy her a cherry Coke and rest my head on her shoulder. Then the movie happens… aaaand I realize very quickly that maybe The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was perhaps not the best choice for a romantic date. The film’s uncomfortable treatment of Lisbeth Salander’s sexual assault makes us squirm in our seats, and it doesn’t get much better from there. As the ending credits roll, we walk out of the theatre silently, sort of shell-shocked, not touching at all. We barely nod at each other as we split up to walk to separate train stations. We don’t really see each other much after that.


My best friend gives me a pot cookie as part of my Christmas present. I’m not much for smoking weed, and I’ve never eaten a pot cookie before. She tells me to be careful with it because she had a rough time with hers, but I believe that I’m better at drugs than she is (?!) so I eat a much larger piece than she recommends. Nothing happens, and I’m actually pretty disappointed; I didn’t really have plans for Christmas Day, and everybody I’d want to hang out with is out of town. Forty-five minutes later, I’m lying on my bed, resting my chin on my hands while I absent-mindedly poke around the Internet, and suddenly I lurch forwards as everything around me screeches to a grinding halt. I am instantly so fucking out-of-my-mind high that time itself feels heavy, as though I’m buried underwater. I realize immediately that this is a feeling I do not want, and I sort of wish there was a customer service department I could call to return this unwanted gift — I’d even take store credit at this point, I don’t care, I just emphatically do not want this trip. I have no choice in the matter. I trip miserably alone in my room for several hours that feel like weeks, wishing I could watch a movie or read a book or something. I admit to myself that I am old and lame, and that I will never eat a pot cookie ever again.


We go to a strip club. We kind of hoped it would be sadder than it was, but it’s mostly just a raucous, drunk night out for holiday orphans all over town. One girl who’s presumably supposed to be soliciting lapdances sits listlessly at a table in the corner, obviously playing chess on her phone. Later, during her own pole dance, she will take selfies in the mirror behind the stage.

This year, I will drink this bottle of vegan eggnog my ex made me with cashew milk and rum and probably watch bootlegged movies, unless you’re around and want to get Chinese.

How do you celebrate Jewish Christmas?

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Stef Schwartz is a founding member and the self-appointed Vapid Fluff Editor at She currently resides in New York City, where she spends her days writing songs nobody will ever hear and her nights telling much more successful musicians what to do. Follow her on twitter and/or instagram.

Stef has written 464 articles for us.


  1. I am celebrating Jewish Christmas by lying in bed, debating whether to take nap #2 of the day! Later, I will go have Chinese food and a movie with my parents. They want to see The Imitation Game, and while I really, really don’t, my gift to them will be a whole day when I don’t harangue them about what a gross douche Benedict Cumberbatch is. Holidays!!

    • Mari, hi! I am having a similar Jewish Christmas, but I think we’re going to see the Annie movie. I’m ready for Chinese food later!

    • Why is Benedict Cumberbatch a gross douche? I know nothing about him except that I thought he was a cartoon rabbit when I first heard his name.

  2. I’m not Jewish, but I haven’t celebrated Christmas in years because of family problems and I worked in retail for 6.5 years, which slowly destroyed any love of Christmas I had left. Ňow I’ve lived in DC for 2 years, away from any friends I would feel comfortable hanging with on Christmas, and I’m estranged my family. So today I am celebrating by reading and doing laundry. Last year I slept all day because I was working full time and going to grad school full time, so I was exhausted. And the year before that I was still working retail so I slept all day because I was exhausted. I only exchange gifts with one person now (my best friend).

  3. I’m celebrating Jewish Christmas by watching Gilmore Girls, avoiding my parents attempts to get me to help clean the house, and remembering that I can’t text my friends because they’re busy.

  4. My goal for the day is to convince my dad to watch Frozen with me. So far we have gone from “no way” to “go rake the leaves” to “I’d rather not” to “let’s watch Shrek instead,” so I think progress is being made.

  5. I am not Jewish but I am totally down to go to the movies and get Chinese food.
    It just sounds way better than being with my douchey family.

  6. This is my first Jewish Christmas without being adopted into the family of an ambiguously Christian partner.

    I went over to my brothers house last night and we played a bunch of our old SNES games like Super Mario World & Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the classics, you know. Now we are eating leftovers at my mom’s house and crowded around her computer watching The Interview.

    Jewish Christmas is perfect for people who like to go to a party and take a nap. It’s really a perfect holiday.

  7. Is it more traditional or less traditional to eat Chinese food on Christmas Day because you’re actually Asian and your mom just cooks that? Regardless, there’s no pumpkin pie, ham or mashed potatoes.

  8. I ordered Chinese delivery and watched Love Actually on Netflix. I’m feeling pretty lonely today, but tomorrow I go back to work and back to “normal”. Most of my friends celebrate Christmas, and even the ones that don’t are with family today, so it’s hard to make plans. I think I’ll pop some popcorn and watch more Netflix…

  9. This was so brilliant; I think this could be the new subject for Serial! I mean, I’d listen to 12 weeks of Jewish Christmas podcasts.

  10. I went to a friend’s house with a bag of frozen chicken skin, and we made schmaltz, and then we used the schmaltz to make knishes. Then we sat around reading comic books and eating knishes. And I didn’t have to see or talk to anyone in my family at all. Best Jewish Chrismas Ever?

  11. I’ve always found it ironic that my upbringing was so Roman Catholic that we ended up having ‘Jewish Christmas’ too. My immigrant family always stuck to their Christmas Eve celebrations from the old countries and left Christmas to be that weird day off that the adults slept off their hangovers and the oldest kids supervised a day out to the movies and a meal at a Chinese restaurant where we were the only group sans kippah.

  12. We used to do a movie and Chinese, but then the nearest Chinese restaurant closed. So we saw “Into the Woods” (a good adaptation of the stage musical, plus Merrill Streep) and then home for a frittata and wine. Very relaxing!

    And last week our favorite Hanukkah meal: latkes, sour cream, chipotle roasted tofu, and beer.

  13. I volunteered at the Lutheran church that serves a Christmas dinner to whoever needs it. They’ve been doing it since forever and are really pro at it – yay! – so I didn’t have much to do besides sit with the guests and chat with them, guiding them to the gift room (how cool is that?) that had some really good swag. Then I came home, took a looooong nap, cooked my own Chinese, popped a beer, and streamed “Galaxy Quest.” Called my Mama, who just moved across country, having outlived all her friends & slipping seriously, so that was a truly bizarre conversation. Not the day I would have planned for myself if I hadn’t been so damn broke, but not bad.

  14. I have never had a Jewish Christmas because of the quarter of my family that isn’t Jewish, but I really liked reading this essay.

  15. I know this comment is super late, but I totally loved reading this, like, stef, you’re amazing and thank you.

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