A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish

A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish

A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish

A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish


Christmas is not everybody's favorite holiday. Historically, Jews in America, whether participating in or refraining from recognizing Christmas, have devised a multitude of unique strategies to respond to the holiday season. Their response is a mixed one: do we participate, try to ignore the holiday entirely, or create our own traditions and make the season an enjoyable time? This book, the first on the subject of Jews and Christmas in the United States, portrays how Jews are shaping the public and private character of Christmas by transforming December into a joyous holiday season belonging to all Americans.

Creative and innovative in approaching the holiday season, these responses range from composing America's most beloved Christmas songs, transforming Hanukkah into the Jewish Christmas, creating a national Jewish tradition of patronizing Chinese restaurants and comedy shows on Christmas Eve, volunteering at shelters and soup kitchens on Christmas Day, dressing up as Santa Claus to spread good cheer, campaigning to institute Hanukkah postal stamps, and blending holiday traditions into an interfaith hybrid celebration called "Chrismukkah" or creating a secularized holiday such as Festivus.

Through these venerated traditions and alternative Christmastime rituals, Jews publicly assert and proudly proclaim their Jewish and American identities to fashion a universally shared message of joy and hope for the holiday season.

See also: http://www.akosherchristmas.org


In his 1962 Christmas message to the nation, President John F. Kennedy declared that “Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, as well as Christians, pause from their labors on the 25th day of December to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace.” He concluded that “there could be no more striking proof that Christmas is truly the universal holiday of all men.”

Kennedy, who was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, just blocks away from a large synagogue, should certainly have known better. Even in his day, as many as one in five Americans never celebrated Christmas as “the birthday of the Prince of Peace.” December 25th is the only American national holiday rooted in a specific religious tradition that a significant minority of Americans fail to share.

Nevertheless, as Joshua Plaut demonstrates in this volume, Christmas has become a national holiday in the United States. Those who do not observe it religiously, like America’s Jews, cannot ignore it and may even enjoy it. If, as a famous advertisement once declared, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye,” then by analogy you don’t have to be Christian to love Christmas. and even if you do not love Christmas (the more common Jewish attitude), there are still distinctive ways to mark the day. Filling in for non-Jews who have to work, celebrating culture at a Jewish museum, searching for love at a Jewish singles dance, laughing at Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, escaping to a movie and a Chinese restaurant— for Jews, these too are contemporary Christmas rituals.

Joshua Plaut explores these rituals and more in this extraordinary volume, the first to examine the subject of Jews and Christmas historically, ethnographically, and dispassionately. the fruits of many years of careful research, it teaches us more than we ever knew before about the multiple . . .

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