A Jewish Christmas Day Tradition

As we scrape the last stubborn bits of wax from the menorah, our thoughts turn from Chanukah to the next big holiday.  If you are looking for a fun, alternative way to spend Christmas Eve or Day, visit us! A trip to our landmark synagogue, located in the heart of Chinatown, has become an annual holiday tradition for many.

According to the Museum at Eldridge Street’s Deputy Director, Amy Stein-Milford, Christmas Day is one of the busiest days on the Museum’s calendar. “Almost every other museum and cultural site is closed on Christmas Day and yet here we are full of life and people. A lot of our December 25th visitors tell us while they do not celebrate the holiday they still appreciate its festive spirit and want to be around other people.”

The Museum’s Chinatown location is clearly a draw.  After all, eating at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas is a longstanding Jewish tradition. And to satisfy that craving, there is even a kosher vegetarian Chinese restaurant Buddha Bodai just a 10-15 minute walk from us.

For many years Chinese restaurants were the only ones open on December 25. But Jews’ consumption of Chinese food on Christmas stems from other reasons, too, Historically, the Jews and Chinese were the largest non-Christian groups living near one another on the Lower East Side. In an article in the Atlantic, Jennifer 8. Lee, the producer of  The Search for General Tso, suggests that the “two groups were linked not only by proximity, but by otherness. Jewish affinity for Chinese food ‘reveals a lot about immigration history and what it’s like to be outsiders.’ ”

Read The Atlantic’s article: Why American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

Visitors who tour our landmark site, are often surprised to discover our synagogue in midst of a bustling Chinatown. “What’s a synagogue doing in Chinatown?” they often ask. For the Museum, the ever-evolving nature of our area, and its continuing immigrant context is meaningful. When the Eldridge Street Synagogue first opened its doors in 1887 its neighborhood was home to the largest Jewish community in the world. Yiddish was the lingua franca. 128-years later, the area is still home to a vibrant community, now a Chinatown with a Buddhist temple and delicious dumpling shops and restaurants just steps away.

Whatever your reasons for visiting us on Christmas Eve or Day, we promised there will be lots to see and do!  On December 24, Christmas Eve, the Museum will be open from 10 am to 5 pm and will offer synagogue tours every hour (10, 11, 12, 1, 2, 3 and 4). At 1 pm, the Museum’s Education Associate Rachel Serkin (pictured above with Chanukah tinsel) with lead a special Lower East Side Hot Cider Walking Tour exploring Jewish landmarks of the area and ending with hot cider and a light nosh in the synagogue. (Space is limited and RSVP is required for this tour.)

Christmas Day will be joyous. For over a dozen years, Greg Wall and his band Klezmerfest have presented a rollicking family-friendly Klez for Kids Concert where kids sing, dance and learn a few Yiddish words. At the end of the performance our youngest guests participate in a mock  shtetl wedding, taking on the roles of bride, groom and wedding guests. Grown-ups are welcome, too, and will enjoy our building tours offered at 10 am, 12 noon and 1 pm that day. The festivities will continue the following week with the Museum open and offering self-guided scavenger hunts and coloring pages for families. Synagogue tours are offered daily, along with three special holiday week tours for which RSVP is required: Beyond the Facade Architecture Tour, Treasures of the Archive Tour, and Folklore of the Synagogue Tour.

Comment here and let us know what are your favorite holiday week traditions and places to visit!

Categories: Blog, Jewish History

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