How Jewish Chefs Celebrate Christmas

When Christmas and Hanukkah collide, great traditions are born

With the first night of Hanukkah falling on Christmas Eve, we take the opportunity to ask our favorite Jewish chefs how (and if) they celebrate Christmas. Sure, eating lo mein (see the recipe) and hitting the theater on the 25th of December may be a cliché, but for good reason.

"The Jewish tradition of Chinese food and a movie is taken very seriously," Jason Vincent, co-chef of Giant in Chicago, explains. "It usually starts at someone's house for a 'Christmas for Jews' gathering. Then it moves on to Chinese food, [and] depending on your age and standing within the 'tribe of cousins,' you would either go to a movie with your parents (lame) or go get wicked superpower baked and go to a movie with your older cousins and their unbelievably cool friends. Then, in either case, more Chinese food."

Playing Oprah for a moment, we also wanted to find out what it was like growing up in a Christmas-dominated country. "I never felt like I was missing out," Jessica Koslow, chef and owner of Sqirl in L.A., tells us. "Maybe it was because I really never experienced the whole shebang of Christmas until I was 31 [which included a potato casserole adorned with cornflakes]. I grew up in Long Beach, California, and until I was 12, we would always go over to the . . . Ferris Bueller house down the street [for a Christmas Eve party]. The home was always decorated to the nines, complete with exorbitant exterior lighting, a self-playing piano, a varied nutcracker collection with accompanying nuts to crack and a gift for me under the tree. So that really felt like Christmas."

However, not everyone is quite as full of holiday cheer come Christmastime. "It was the worst day of the year," Ivan Orkin, owner of Ivan Ramen, recounts. Having gone to a predominantly Christian grade school, Orkin explains that all of his friends would be opening presents, while he sat at home bored.

"Before I moved to Japan, I hated Christmas; it's not a racist thing, it's Freudian," Orkin says of his childhood trauma. But celebrating the holiday overseas became a cultural connection he brought back to the States—including an affinity for the goddess of Christmas carols, Mariah Carey.

Unlike his contemporaries, however, Orkin has always opted for Jewish deli food in lieu of Chinese cuisine. For Koslow, it was a mix of both: "My mother would always have corned beef bubbling away on the stove. So Chinese food and corned beef . . . an interesting combo for sure."

Fast-forward to today, and most of these chefs (as well as many TT editors) gleefully embrace the tradition of Chinese food on Christmas. "We always order Peking duck, then everyone picks something to share. So we get a good variety, and everyone can try lots of dishes," Jenn Louis, chef and owner of Lincoln in Portland, Oregon, says of her Christmas customs. Louis still manages to make a brisket and latkes every year for Hanukkah, too.

So whether you're celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas or some combination of the two, the rules are the same: Great food and good company are really all that matter.