I’m used to escaping to the beach back in Panama and spending the week of Christmas pretending nothing but the pool and my dogs exist with my Orthodox family up until New Years. This year, for the first time, however, I will be spending the holiday in a cold and COVID-ridden New York City. Oysh.
So, if you’re like me and are set on not celebrating the birth of Jesus, but need some mundane and leisurely activities to keep you busy on your day off while the world is on pause, I got you. We’ll brainstorm together. I already have some ideas.
- The Classic Jewish-American Tradition
Can’t rate this one first hand, given that I’ve yet to partake in it. (This year will be my first time and I can’t wait!) But Chinese food on Christmas is a very sweet tradition that American Jews seem to cherish. And I agree. The non-commemoration of the most famous goyishe holiday with an intercultural feast is such a home run. Follow up your meal with a late night movie for a truly authentic night.
- Pretend It’s Still Hanukkah
No need to be salty that our holidays are over, while everyone else is celebrating theirs. Just pretend they aren’t! I wouldn’t say the prayers or actually light a menorah. And definitely don’t say the prayers–G-d’s name in vain and all. But listening to some Hanukkah music, sufganiyot, and latkes are not a bad deal. Watch A Rugrats Chanukah for some extra fun, too.
- Drink And Watch Netflix
The second season of Emily in Paris with Jewish actress Lily Collins (yes she is, Google it) is out and if you haven’t binged it in its entirety yet, this is the time to do it. And get some wine, while you’re at it. Other options are the terrible new Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That… or whatever Succession is.
Of course, if you’re looking to live vicariously through your laptop screen, you can watch Christmas movies, duh. Serendipity will be my recommendation here because I’m a sucker for rom-coms and Love, Actually doesn’t do it for me. There’s also a Christmas-themed reality dating show on HBO Max called 12 Dates of Christmas. And I don’t know why I had never heard of it until this week, but you can bet that’s what I’ll be consuming on the evening of December 24.
- Learn About Jewish Suffering
Like I said before, there’s no need to be salty. But if you choose to, that’s valid and know that I support you. I won’t point you to anything about the Shoah, because I’ll suggest that you stay more on theme this season.
Did you know that since the middle ages up until relatively recent times, some Christian communities in Europe would use December 25th to launch pogroms against Jewish communities? Because they blamed us for Jesus’ death and all that jazz. Not cool! Read about it!
There’s also the Inquisition, which most Jews know very little about. You can read about that too. Why not.
5. Walk The Empty Streets
It’s literally the perfect night to feed your main character complex and hit the empty lit-up streets. How emo! All you’ll need is headphones (preferably not wireless because vibes) and some cash just in case your run into your bashert and end up going on a one-night adventure. Cut to the wedding scene! I told you I’m a sucker for rom-coms…
6. Be Shomer Shabbos
This year, Christmas falls on Shabbat. But even if you’re reading this on a year that it doesn’t, isn’t observing the weekly Jewish holiday a great way to disconnect yourself from all the Christmas frenzy? Turn off your phone, grab a few books, and voila. Christmas passed and you didn’t even notice.
…Except being shomer is pretty hard, and that’s probably unrealistic if you’re going cold turkey. But this is the best night to give it a try! If you can’t fully dive in, try starting small. Maybe just no phone for 25 hours? Easy enough?
7. Nittel Nacht
Did you know Chasidic Jews have their own Christmas tradition? Yeah, me neither. Unlike Jews on the more secular Jews’ Chinese food tradition, it is less of an alternate activity as it is a diss. Drama!!!
The custom of Nittel Nacht (nacht meaning ‘night’, and nittel deriving from the Hebrew niteleh, ‘the hanged one’) dates back to the 16th century, but tensions date back to the writing of the text Toledot Yeshu, a Jewish telling of Jesus’ story–and not a very flattering one.
It is a custom to not study Torah. Some rabbis even forbid having sex! Instead, they partake in other activities such as playing chess or cards, while others read Toledot Yeshu to remember the longstanding feud.
8. Sleep In
As good an option as any. Listen, I will definitely be indulging in some well-deserved rest, and so should you! Honestly, it’s not like I have any Christmas presents to wake up to unless you count my daily dose of Adderall.
Worst comes to worst and none of these options appeals to you, hit me up and we can play some board games or something. I have no plans so…
Anyway, Happy Not-Our-Holiday and Shabbat Shalom!
Isaac de Castro is a former Tablet journalism fellow and the editor of Jewcy.com. Follow him on Twitter @isaacdecastrog.