Chinese Restaurants on Christmas: How this Tradition Came to Be

Ordering take-out or dining in at a Chinese restaurant has been a custom among people who do not celebrate Christmas for more than 100 years. Even people who do celebrate the holiday may choose to indulge in Chinese food for the sake of convenience. 

According to owners of Chinese restaurants across the country, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are their busiest days of the year, and they see no signs of the trend stopping anytime soon.

Non-Christian Immigrants Started the Tradition of Eating Chinese Food on Christmas

Immigrant communities in New York City in the late 1800s were among the first to seek places to eat on Christmas and other holidays they did not celebrate. These non-Christian immigrants had time away from work over the Christmas holiday but did not yet have traditions of their own to celebrate. 

After realizing that Chinese restaurants were open on Christmas, they spread the word to the others in their community that these restaurants were warm and welcoming places to eat.

Jewish Families Especially Enjoyed the New Tradition

Of all immigrant communities other than the Chinese themselves, Jewish families showed up at Chinese restaurants on Christmas Day the most. Convenience is certainly a factor since nearly all restaurants and grocery stores close for the entire day on this major Christian holiday. 

However, the love that Jewish people have for Chinese food goes far beyond convenience.

Jewish families immigrated to the United States in large numbers starting in the mid-1800s and continuing until the 1930s. Many who came from Eastern Europe, Greece, and Germany settled into new homes in New York’s Lower East Side of Manhattan. 

The neighborhood butted up directly with New York City’s Chinatown. Both Jewish and Chinese immigrants faced extreme discrimination because others in the community felt they did not integrate well enough by learning the language and giving up their long-held religious beliefs.

The new Jewish immigrants found their Chinese immigrant neighbors to be much more accepting. To return the kindness, Jewish New Yorkers began patronizing Chinese restaurants as often as they could, but especially on Christmas. 

The two immigrant communities were the largest in New York, and they relied on each other to navigate life in their new adopted homeland. Jewish people also found it easier to stick to customs regarding kosher food with Chinese food than with food from most other nationalities.

Chinese Food and Christmas Celebrations Turn Mainstream

Both Christian and non-Christian families enjoy Chinese food at Christmas today, although their reasons vary. For people who celebrate the traditional holiday, they may order Chinese take-out to avoid cooking and spend more time enjoying the company of their guests.

According to research conducted by the food delivery service GrubHub, orders for Chinese food increase by an average of 152 percent during Christmas week. People also search for terms related to Chinese foods and restaurants during the week of Christmas than they do at any other time of the year. 

The statistics prove that a tradition started in New York City more than a century ago is now a nationwide trend that will continue to grow.


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