With the marketing-fueled rush toward the holiday season after Black Friday, it is easy to forget that Christmas is a religious holiday deriving from the Christian faith.
Do Jews celebrate Christmas, and if so, how do they celebrate it?
The birth of Jesus Christ makes Christmas one of Christianity’s most important holidays.
However, the same cannot be said for Hanukkah, as Jewish theology does not recognize Jesus as the son of God, and therefore, the Jewish religion does not celebrate Christmas.
Jews, are, however, relevant to Christmas in certain ways and they share many similar traditions to the Catholic religion, all of which will be covered in this article.
Judaism | Christmas Celebration
Contrary to popular belief, Jews do not celebrate Christmas. However, they have many traditions that are similar to those of Catholics and other Christian denominations during the holiday season.
Although they do not celebrate the holiday itself, many Jews participate in the festivities surrounding Christmas, such as shopping, attending holiday parties, and decorating their homes.
Some synagogues hold special events or services during this time of year that may attract Jewish families.
Many Jews also enjoy exchanging gifts around Christmas time, just like Christians do.
However, because of their religious beliefs, many Jews choose to give gifts that are meaningful and reflective of their Jewish heritage, such as homemade food or gifts made by Jewish artisans.
What Do Jews Celebrate?
Jews celebrate an eight-day festival called Hanukkah. Hanukkah usually falls between November and December each year, although the date changes each year in accordance with the Hebrew calendar.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of Jerusalem’s Second Temple following the Maccabean revolt that happened during the 160s BC, according to the World History Encyclopedia.
Hanukkah also refers to the candelabra that Jewish families light each night of observance. Like the Hebrew language, each candle is lit from right to left. Small gifts may be exchanged each night.
For Jews, the festival celebrates religious freedom; the king at the time prohibited Jews from their traditions and forced them to pray to Greek gods.
The dreidel, a spinning toy with a Hebrew letter on each side, was used to study the Torah in secret.
Do Jews Like Christmas?
The Jewish experience of Christmas has varied by location. During World War II, Central and Eastern European Jews historically stayed home during Christmas due to fears of persecution.
Jews in Western Europe, on the other hand, celebrated Christmas as a nonreligious holiday and even added Christmas trees to their homes.
Finally, Jews in America grew to adopt Christmas as a secular holiday.
Do Jews Have Christmas Traditions?
Even if Jews do not observe Christmas, certain traditions may happen in a Jewish household on Christmas Day. Here are some of the Jewish cultural traditions that align with Christmas Day.
While many restaurants remain closed on Christmas Day, Chinese restaurants are open for business in most areas.
Chinese restaurants have historically served as gathering places for Jews since Chinese cuisine is among the most kosher of mainstream restaurant options.
Going to the Movies
Movie theaters usually reopen by the afternoon of Christmas Day, creating the perfect opportunity for families and friends to see the latest releases.
Getting Together with Family
Since many folks are off for Christmas and most businesses are closed, Jews may take advantage of the convenience factor and get the family together anyway.
Going to Work
On Christmas, Jews often swap schedules with their Christian coworkers so that they can celebrate the holidays with their families. This is especially useful for law enforcement, emergency workers, and other public servants who otherwise may not have the day off.
Many Jews proudly celebrate their identity and faith during Christmas through volunteer work, or mitzvot. Mitzvot is the Hebrew word for “good deed.” Jewish Santas are present each year in American cities, spreading cheer and joy to folks of all backgrounds.
Have Jews Contributed to Christmas?
Even though Jews do not celebrate Christmas, they have contributed significantly to the celebration of Christmas today. Here are some secular Jewish contributions to the Christmas season.
- The artificial Christmas tree was designed by Si Spiegel, a Jewish World War II veteran.
- Jewish songwriters are behind many of the most treasured Christmas carols, such as “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland”, according to CBC.
- Tippi and Neal Dobrofsky are the Jewish couple behind 30 Hallmark, Lifetime, and Netflix Christmas movies.
The dominance of Christmas as a secular and religious holiday has led Jews to interpret the season in many ways.
Since Christmas has no religious significance to orthodox Jews, some have rejected it outright.
For these Jews, Christmas is any other day, and no elaborate decorations are needed, meaning the technical answer to “do Jews celebrate Christmas” is no.
Some have embraced it as a business opportunity through their contributions to Christmas music and film. Others have used the holiday to help noble causes that serve all backgrounds.
Finally, many Jews celebrate the spirit of the season with loved ones, much like how Christmas is spent among Christians.