By Jenny Jia ’23
December 25th. You wake up to the aroma of eggnog wafting around the kitchen. As you descend the steps, you stumble from excitement as your fuzzy fleece feet skate down the stair boards. Your eyes glow, in awe of the perfectly-wrapped presents under the tree. For just a day, you’re a child again.
Christmas morning is that one time of the year where every kid and grownup around the world beams from the magic touch of Saint Nick and his holiday cheer. Well, not every kid and grownup.
The Jewish and Chinese diaspora would like a word.
Growing up, the 25th of December was of no significance to my family. Instead of being showered with toys, I was showered with…math equations. Piano class. So imagine the agony young I endured, having to listen to stories about girls my age receiving a new Princess Ariel Under the Sea dollhouse when I was “gifted” a Kumon Decimals and Fractions workbook.
Where are you, holiday cheer? I’m waiting.
I returned from grade one winter break dreary and dreading the “Christmas present sharing circle” my teacher had suggested.
“So, what did everyone get for the holidays? Edison?”
“I got a Thomas the Tank Engine set!”
“I got a Superman costume!”
“My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. We’re Jewish.”
Noah became one of my closest friends.
Nine Christmases later, I’m still left to wonder what this minority population of Canadians do on the most anticipated holiday of the year. So I asked my Jewish friend, Liam, to share his yuletide plans:
“My family gets Chinese food sometimes, other times Thai.”
Which sounds random enough by itself, but if you learn more about Sino-Judaic relations and practices, it makes perfect sense.
Authentic Chinese food is virtually dairy-free, which abides by kosher dietary guidelines that state that meat cannot be mixed with milk (more common in European cuisines that use butter). Fish is also the seafood of choice for most Chinese dishes as opposed to shellfish. Even better? You will find that the only stores open on Christmas day are operated by Chinese business owners, meaning Chinese restaurants will always be available for service. 91% of us are atheists, by the way.
This practice did not erupt out of nowhere, however; its origins are traced to New York, New York, 1899. At the time, the Jewish population was concentrated in the Lower East Side, adjacent to Chinatown. Then came the question of what to do on Christmas Day…when the rest of the city was rejoicing, tucked inside a canteen was the sight of a party of Jews eating Chinese food, chopsticks and all.
Jewish families around the world have continued this tradition since then. Some say it is a way to honour the acceptance of Jewish refugees into Shanghai during World War II. Others assert that Chinese dining is fitting for a celebration due to its emphasis on togetherness. I agree with both. It all boils down to just two ethnically-contrasting groups eating a Chinese meal on the 25th of December. Slurping noodles, cheering to the new year, having just as much fun as the firm believers of “Christmas” or “Santa Claus.”
My mom told me the “truth” about Father Christmas in grade two, expecting me to shrivel in dismay. I was nonchalant. It’s not like “Santa” gave me gifts anyways, not like I received a Princess Ariel Under the Sea dollhouse from the ol’ fatso.
Santa’s not real guys, Christmas is all but a fever dream. Noah can attest. The Jews and Chinese around the world can too.