Santa Claus is not coming to my house. Not because my children were naughty…it’s because we do not celebrate Christmas. In fact, the winter holiday we do observe, Hanukkah, just ended the day before Christmas this year. (Remember 2013, when Hanukkah came out on Thanksgiving? That was a doozy!)
Here in New York City, and no doubt many other parts of the United States, not everyone celebrates Christmas. This may seem unusual to some people, and perhaps an aberration to others. (Isn’t EVERYONE a Christmas celebrant in the US of A? No.) Those of us who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and adherents of other religions (or NO religions) are not obliged to attend midnight mass, set up a tree with tinsel, and eat (or re-gift) fruit cakes. Some of us do OTHER THINGS. And while we do wish you a Merry Christmas and might snap photos of your reindeer light displays set up in front of your houses, we have other things we do.
1. We work. We work shifts in hospitals, fire departments, emergency dispatch centers, radio stations, car services, and lots of other places. We drive the buses and trains, even if they are on a holiday schedule.
2. We go out to eat at the restaurants that are open. Jews seem to have this tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas. As for my family, we have often dined in Indian eateries on Christmas. Many Asian and south Asian restaurants will be open in urban and suburban areas. There are also Kosher Jewish restaurants and Muslim halal kitchens. Bon appetit, folks!
3. We sleep late, do our laundry, watch old videos, play board games, and catch up on chores. That’s not exciting.
4. We got to the movies. Hey, “The Interview” WILL be playing at some theaters, after all! Yonkers, NY is showing it, among others.
5. We go to cultural attractions that are open. The Jewish Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage are open on Christmas, in Manhattan. In fact, Joshua Nelson brings his Kosher Gospel Choir show to the Heritage Museum! (I’ve seen his act twice and it is amazing.)
6. Weather permitting, we ski (I’ve skied in the Poconos on Christmas Day several times), we bike and hike, we jog, we jump in the ocean and shoot hoops.
7. We go to our own religious services. Short Torah reading, anyone?
8. Volunteer work. There are many opportunities for this. See below for a good reason why.
9. Get married or attend a wedding! I know at least three couples who picked December 25th for getting hitched. Not in a church, of course.
10. Go to the home of someone celebrating Christmas and take part in their customs and ceremonies.
And here are suggestions offered by some of my friends:
11. Karen W. “Chinese food and a movie. What else?”
12. Shad S. “Go to the gym.”
13. Brian K. “Dim sum.”
14. Renee L. “Friends who didn’t celebrate often times came to my house…and celebrated.”
15. Judy BD. “Hibachi”
16. Joe R. “For over 20 years I have organized a group of volunteers to go to local hospitals, nursing homes, etc. to relieve the regular volunteers so they can be home with their families. I do this under the auspices of B’nai Brith International.”
17. Barbara FM. “Genealogy research!”
There you have it, folks. As for me, I will go to a museum, eat at a vegan Chinese restaurant, do laundry and check my email. Happy Holidays!
Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013). (And hopefully a book about NJ one day, if her publisher gives the green light.)