Going out for Chinese food during the holiday season, or even on Christmas Day, is a tradition for many people. For some people, we only know it as a funny scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie’s family shares Peking duck after the dog eats their turkey. For others, going to a Chinese restaurant for the holidays is a time-honored institution. No matter which camp you fall into, you might wonder where this tradition came from.
Let’s look at the cultural history that connects Chinese food with the holiday season.
Immigrant Communities Come Together
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, New York City was full of immigrant communities. Most of these communities came from European Christian countries, with two notable exceptions: the Jews and the Chinese. Chinese immigrants were neither Christian nor European. Jews, on the other hand, may have come from various European countries, but it was their religious tradition that held them together rather than a shared homeland. These two communities tended to live in adjoining neighborhoods, so many Jewish families lived near Chinese restaurants.
Passing the Time
When all the Christians went to church on Sunday, the Jewish population needed something to do. We have records from as early as 1899 that talk about American Jews eating lunch at Chinese restaurants on Sundays when all the Christians were gathering after church. When Christmas Day rolled around, Chinese restaurants were often the only places that were open. Neither the Chinese nor the Jewish populations were celebrating Christmas, so it was only natural that they would come together in some way.
Closer to Kosher
There was one more reason why American Jews frequented Chinese restaurants: the kosher diet. According to Jewish law, there are certain foods and food combinations that Jews are not allowed to eat. For example, combining meat and dairy is non-kosher, so pretty much all Italian and Mexican foods are a no-go. Chinese food, however, is pretty much dairy-free, so it’s much easier to keep kosher when eating at a Chinese restaurant.
Gourmet Chinese Food at SFK
December 25th is still one of the busiest days for Chinese restaurants in the United States. But even if you don’t go out on Christmas, you can still enjoy a holiday feast at San Francisco Kitchen. Enjoy the holiday season and visit SFK with your friends and family!