How did Chinese Cuisine Become a New Choice for Christmas Dinner?
The conventional way of Christmas celebration has always been preparing extravagant meals and holding a feast with family members at home. Traditionally, roasted turkey and Christmas cake are must-eats for the Christmas meal. However, there has been a trend in the United States in recent years: many people have decided not to cook their own Christmas dinner but opted for having Chinese food outside instead! How did Chinese cuisine begin to be considered a Christmas meal in the United States? Today I will introduce to you this seemingly unusual but long-standing "Jewish Christmas" ("Jewish Christmas" in this article does not refer to the Jewish traditional festival "Hanukkah").
Unorthodox Festive Moment - the Popular "Jewish Christmas" in the United States
When it comes to Christmas, a series of traditions always comes to people’s minds, such as Christmas tree decoration, Christmas dinner preparation, Christmas caroling, etc. However, in recent years, an alternative way of celebration has become more and more popular in the United States. It is called, "Jewish Christmas", originated from areas populated by Jewish immigrants.
What other ways to celebrate Christmas around the world?
Click into the article to find out: 12 Festive Christmas Food You Need to Know
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy preparing a meal on the holiday, you can bring your family to a Chinese restaurant and enjoy the food there; if you’re living far from home, making family reunion nearly impossible, you can then order Chinese takeout and enjoy it at home. The simple and casual way to enjoy Christmas properly aligns with the urban lifestyles.
In addition, Jewish Christmas has a tradition of watching movies. So after dinner, you can go with your family or friends to a cinema or have a cozy movie night at home.
Though not as grand as the traditional way of celebrating Christmas, the simple routine has been attracting more attention. This tradition originally for Jewish people only has rapidly spread and been practiced by people from various ethnic groups. Then, how did "Jewish Christmas" come about? And how was Christmas associated with Chinese cuisine in the first place?
The Connection of Jewish People and Chinese Cuisine
Immigrant Culture in Manhattan
This connection between Jewish people and Chinese cuisine has its roots in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where immigrants have been coming in from all over the world since the 19th century, with Jewish people being the largest immigrant group. The Jewish neighborhood happens to be adjacent to Chinatown, so the two groups have always had close contact with each other.
Jewish immigrants in the United States were at first reluctant to celebrate Christmas due to frequent alcohol-related misconduct. However, as time passed, Jewish people started feeling that they were left behind when the majority of American people were busy celebrating Christmas; thus, they finally began to accept this local tradition.
When Jewish People Meet Chinese Cuisine
The earliest record of Jewish people’s visits to Chinese restaurants dates back to an American Jewish newspaper in 1899. At that time, the media strongly criticized them for eating in non-kosher restaurants, which portrayed the conservative attitude towards their diet during that period of time.
However, the acceptance of foreign cultures gradually increased, so did the sense of freedom and autonomy. Jewish families began to set up Christmas trees at home and were willing to spend the holiday outside. In order to enjoy different foods to suit the occasion, the neighboring Chinese restaurants have become their first choice for eating out.
In the 1930s, there were more than 30 Chinese restaurants in the Jewish neighborhood, showing the popularity of Chinese cuisine in the Jewish community. Also in 1935, the New York Times reported that a Chinese named Eng Shee Chuck brought Chinese fried noodles to an orphanage at Newark during Christmas. These are what established the link between Jews, Chinese cuisine, and Christmas.
As for the film-watching tradition, the early Jewish immigrants worked as coolies, so it was difficult for them to make ends meet with their meager wages. So they would go to local cheap movie theaters (nickelodeon) and spend merely five cents to watch a movie for entertainment, which also made movie watching a must-have itinerary for this holiday. In addition to the above-mentioned history, Jewish people’s love for Chinese cuisine also grew because of their peculiar eating habits.
What Is a Kosher Diet?
The traditional Jewish diet follows the teachings of the Torah, which has many provisions that make it difficult for the Jewish community to have access to exotic foods, such as:
- For livestock, only ruminant animals are permissible (e.g. cattle and sheep).
- Meat should not be mixed with any dairy products.
- For seafood, only scaly and winged fish are permissible.
- Only the upper half of the meat can be consumed (Take beef as an example, sirloin, rump, and flank cannot be consumed, let alone combined meat).
While the Lower East Side also has plenty of Italian and Mexican restaurants, many of the dishes include meat that is combined with cheese, whipped cream, or other dairy products. In contrast, Chinese dishes are more "Jewish-friendly", with most of the dishes being in line with the dietary regulations of Jewish teachings; therefore, during this time of year, American Chinese restaurants become gathering places for Jewish people, and the seats are always full.
From Christmas Festive Food to Victim in a Boycott – The Joys and Sorrows of Chinese Cuisine in the US
Since the 19th century, a large number of Chinese people have been immigrating to the United States to seek a living for themselves, spreading the traditional dishes and culture of their hometown as they earn their living. As a result, Chinese restaurants are everywhere nowadays. No matter which country you’re in, you can always find a Chinese restaurant. Chinese cuisine is so popular that it has even evolved into a unique style of cuisine, known as American Chinese cuisine. However, throughout the decades, the Chinese food industry has not skyrocketed. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has caused great trouble to many Chinese restaurants in the United States.
COVID-19 Pushes Asian Restaurants to Go Out of Business
COVID-19 began to spread at the end of 2019 and later caused a global outbreak in the first half of 2020. With their daily life heavily affected, many in America resulted in growing hatred against Asian ethnic groups. Since 2020, a large number of Asian restaurants went out of business, especially Chinese restaurants which accounted for 61% alone. Although the number of confirmed cases in other countries became higher than that in China, restaurants of other exotic cuisines were still doing great, but Asian restaurants were in a terrible position. And so, Asian food stores and Asian celebrities have decided to take action to support Asian food in the United States.
The New Trend of Asian Food by #TakeOutHate - The Rebirth of Chinese Cuisine
In May 2020, Japanese food manufacturer Ajinomoto Co., Inc. launched the #TakeOutHate campaign to encourage the public to buy take-out meals and support small and medium-sized Asian restaurants.
Many Asian celebrities have expressed their support for the movement, including Harry Shum, Jr., actor of "Crazy Rich Asians", who jokingly said:
Driven by this movement, Asian cuisine was in the spotlight again. As outdoor activities were restricted, take-out food won its huge popularity. The cultural connection of Jewish and Chinese immigrants has unintentionally become a part of the mainstream culture of the US; therefore Chinese cuisine has risen to become the Christmas meal for Americans since 2020. While most restaurants are closed for the holiday, Chinese restaurants continue to open their doors, welcoming people who come to celebrate and satisfy their appetites.
The Oriental delicacies, passed down by overseas immigrants from the East, have now become an important role in the holiday celebrated in the West. With the diversification of values, no matter which race or religion you’re from, you can choose the way you celebrate festivities. After all, the most important thing is to cherish time and company with your loved ones. Enjoy your meals together at the end of the year and welcome the beginning of a new year!