Christmas is not a Jewish holiday. Many Christians think of Christmas as an American holiday, a secular holiday or a cultural holiday, but most Jews today do not think of Christmas that way. According to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, 82% of Jewish households never have a Christmas tree (and the idea of a "Chanukkah bush" is mostly a joke, not anything anybody takes seriously). The same percentage was found in a 2000 survey by the AJC, though I'm sure that survey skewed toward the more Jewishly-involved. Even among those who are intermarried, only half have a Christmas tree in the home and only 75% give Christmas presents (see Intermarriage and Jewish Journeys). A 2007 survey by InterfaithFamily.com found that only 37% of interfaith families that have decided to raise the children Jewish have a tree in the home. It has become a cliché to talk about the "December Dilemma," the problems that Jewish parents face when their children become jealous of the presents and the fanfare of Christmas, or when interfaith couples must decide what to do for the December holidays.
Many Jews (even highly assimilated Jews) are uncomfortable about Christmas. We don't object to Christians celebrating Christmas, but we don't particularly want to celebrate it ourselves, and there is enormous social pressure to celebrate Christmas, whether we want to or not. One Jewish writer said it's like being a man in the lingerie department: you feel like you don't belong there. Another Jewish writer said, "just try telling a Christmas enthusiast that the creche in front of your post office makes you uneasy; suddenly, 'frosty' describes more than just the snowman." Many secular Christians have told me that Christmas is my holiday too, and some of them get very angry or even nasty when I tell them that I don't want to celebrate it, calling me "Grinch" or "Scrooge."
So if Jews don't celebrate Christmas, then what do we do on December 25? Well, this year (2010), there's an easy answer: go to synagogue! December 25 is a Saturday this year, the Jewish sabbath, and we shouldn't be doing anything on Shabbat anyway! But that's not an answer for everybody, because a lot of Jews don't observe Shabbat strictly.
It's tough to find something to do on Christmas, because just about everything is closed. Here are a few of the more popular December 25 activities for Jews.
Some of my readers have told me about the following Christmas activities by Jews in their communities:
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