Wednesday 8th February 2023
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What’s your favorite holiday tradition?


Christmas can be a funny time if you’re Jewish—it’s not your holiday, but it’s such a huge holiday that the entire world grinds to a halt, so your impulse is to locate the people you love most and share the moment with them. My tradition involves my brother Mike’s family, me, and  Christmas Eve dinner at this very old-school, thoroughly unstylish but secretly great Greenwich Village restaurant (that’s a picture of it above—bonus points to any New Yorker who can identify it). Their specialty is t-bone steak—like I said, we’re talking old school—and we get it with every conceivable side order, and then when we’re done, go to the deli across the street and buy candy bars for dessert. Like all good traditions, we didn’t plan for it to become one; we just kept going back, year after year, until we realized that we’d created something the season wouldn’t feel right without.  Now please tell me yours. I love this stuff.

Posted on December 18th, 2013 46 Comments

46 Responses

  1. Emily says:

    We’re atheists but I feel similarly to you regarding your impulse to gather loved ones on those few days. We (husband+kids) head to the Denver Art Museum on xmas eve afternoon (it’s gloriously empty) and then to dinner at Steuben’s on Colfax. We cheers each other and have a grand old time.

  2. Lisa says:

    The Knickerbocker!

  3. kate says:

    On Christmas Eve we light the tree and tons of candles and the fire and listen to a record of A Christmas Carol and Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas voiced by Ronald Colman and Charles Laughton recorded in 1944. It makes the season for me!

  4. Maureen says:

    On Christmas Eve, we always have a mix of appetizers for dinner. It started when we were kids, as my mother hates cooking big dinners, especially turkey. We always have the same few dishes (my grandmother’s meatballs, stromboli from the local italian market, veggie dip) and it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

  5. Heather says:

    For years, my sister and I would have one too many Kir Royals, watch The Sound of Music, and cry when Captain von Trapp sings ‘Eidelweiss.’

    Then last year, we, um, smoked something and binge-watched an entire season of Portlandia.

    Hey, traditions are ongoing and flexible…

  6. Janet says:

    For breakfast on the 26th of December, I make pumpkin waffles with orange pecan butter and we all gather round and try to answer the “Christmas Quiz” questions by Jon Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle. All of the hubbub has died down; the little ones are happily playing with new toys; and the adult children relax with us.

  7. Katie says:

    We also listen to A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, an old recording with Lionel Barrymore as Ebenezer Scrooge. I’m from a family of 13 kids, so kids and grandkids are curled up on laps, chairs, couches, the floor. We turn out the lights and watch the fire while we listen. We used to go to midnight mass (Catholic, which explains the 13 kids), then come home and play Hearts, drink beer, and eat pistachios until the wee hours. I don’t know how my parents did it. They don’t even have midnight mass around here anymore, because no one stays up that late anymore.

    • Beth says:

      When I was a [n only] child I asked my mother why my friend had eight brothers and sisters. She told me it was because they were Catholic. For years I thought that was the definition of being Catholic and I wondered how we could become Catholic too so I could get some brothers and sisters.

      I always wished I came from a big family!

    • kate says:

      We did midnight mass too and I loved it.

  8. Diane says:

    One of only two things I really care about during the holidays: my best friend from college days and I moved from the Midwest to San Francisco in our early 20’s (we are now 53-ish). Every year for the last 25 or so we get together for 1-1/2 days to bake the Christmas cookies we both grew up with. We divide the spoils and gift them to family and friends. I would do it even if I left her house without a single cookie.

  9. Lisa says:

    My beloved brother-in-law is Jewish. Our evolving tradition is to take our atheist-of-Episcopalian-origin family out to dinner on Christmas Eve. For Chinese food.

  10. Jane says:

    On Christmas we go to a matinee to see whatever movie opened that day, and then pick up loads of Chinese take-out.
    Is that too cliche?

  11. Shannon says:

    Our favorite tradition is to have a taco dinner for Christmas Eve. One year we were trying to decide what we should have, tired of too many turkey dinners, my sister exclaimed “we should just have tacos!” We’ve enjoyed our Merry Taco Christmas ever since.

    • Dana D says:

      When I was growing up in Los Angeles, we had authentic tamales for Christmas Eve dinner, made by, appropriately, Mary, my mother’s dear friend.

      Over time the Mexican-themed dinner changed and found us, in later years, at some or another Mexican restaurant, trying to recapture those earliest family dinners.

      I’ll cherish those memories of tamales on Christmas Eve…

  12. Melissa says:

    For the past 25+ years, my parents have hosted a breakfast on Christmas morning for friends and family where everyone is required to come in their pajamas. We also have a newer tradition of a Yankee Swap on Christmas Eve that has become of a favorite, too.

  13. Beth says:

    My Jewish husband really gets into Christmas. He refuses to get a fake tree and puts up the decorations and lights around the house. My mother in law comes in from Israel. She grew up in Morocco and really loves Christmas so she gets a stocking with her name embroidered. She draws the line at a Christmas ham, though.

    But when I was a kid, my near-atheist parents and I used to dress up in silly “fancy” clothing, light tons of candles and do fondue!

  14. cedar says:

    My gigantic extended family is always juggling what day everyone can make it for “Christmas” – I believe it’s the 29th this year. For me the tradition that makes the season is when my immediate family and my dad’s sister’s family (who live just a few houses away from my parents) get together for New Year’s Eve.

    Attire is aggressively casual – a screen print t-shirt and slippers are de rigueur – and the hour of meeting is unfashionably early – 5pm or so. We eat a procession of appetizers, very labor intensive ones each of which are someone’s specialty. We drink good wine to a family friendly degree of excess, play a card game, watch an animated movie, and watch the ball drop in New York. Then, as we’re midwesterners, early risers, and there are several small children, we spend the next hour longing for midnight to come in our time zone. At the stroke of midnight we eat dessert (sundaes with homemade hot fudge), kiss, and go immediately to bed. It’s my favorite holiday of the year.

  15. ramonaquimby says:

    Ha, Lisa beat me to it, oh The Knickerbocker…. Funny it doesn’t strike me as a Christmassy place, but now that you mention it I can see it being perfect for that. So cozy in there. And so yummy!

  16. Kathleen Trail says:

    My brother & I make all of our gift tags to each other these really random “names” that are really just geared to make the two of us laugh. It drives my very Type A dad a little nuts – he claims that he’s never sure who it’s to and who it’s from, although the handwriting should be enough of a clue.

    Some examples:
    To HR Puf-N-Stuf / From Witchy-Poo
    To Schadenfreude / From Sturm und Drang
    To Nigiri / From Sashimi
    To Poppycock / From Hogwash

  17. Shannon says:

    Kim, I love the sounds of your Jewish Christmas better than my “real” Christmas! With hype tends to come exhaustion. All I really want to do is hang out with people I really like (friends), eat at a delicious but not too hip restaurant, and then eat candy bars. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  18. Cindy says:

    My tradition is rather new. I live in NYC and so does my BFF – we’re both from Texas. For the past few years we’ve been meeting at my place in Brooklyn and making a decadent brunch for ourselves and any stray folks who have family far away or any non-denominational or Jewish folks who just want to come.
    I love it!
    This year we’re expecting 2 extra folks so far, and nailing down the menu.

    • Cindy says:

      I should mention, the years prior to this tradition my parents would come up, but we’ve started meeting in warmer climates in the spring! this year it’s the DR.

  19. Elise says:

    I think my favorite tradition is not on christmas, but on the day before christmas eve – the 23rd, little christmas eve as my mom calls it. We got in the habit of going out to eat that night, it used to be the same restaurant, but then it closed so we’ve shifted first from one place then to another. Usually on the way home we drive by that person in town who has the most over the top light display in town.

    And it’s my favorite because it just kind of happened and then kept happening, it wouldn’t be christmas without going out for dinner on the 23rd.

  20. Julie says:

    My husband and I have started a new tradition with friends, many of whom are Jewish. We celebrate Festivus with comfort foods, good wine, Christmas cookies and then a walk around the neighborhood distributing holiday decor to the houses that need a little sparkle — my kids (now teens) look forward to this even more than our family’s “real” Christmas!

  21. Debra says:

    My son and I both love to travel and we get up really early on Christmas Day and drive up the California coast from LA to San Francisco to spend 3 or 4 days visiting friends we don’t get a chance to see during the year. It’s just sort of evolved into this mother/son road trip over the years and now it’s part of our tradition. We get into SF in time to eat Dim Sum and walk around Union Square to see the Christmas window displays before meeting friends for dinner. Then the next few days are spent in a blur of walking, cable car riding, eating, hanging out with dear friends, and sightseeing. We have a blast!

  22. Carla says:

    My mom used to cook up a big Scando feast on Christmas Eve, but 5 years ago when she just couldn’t manage it anymore, we started going to a nice bistro near Columbia University on the 24th. I cook a grand Christmas meal on the 25th which MUST begin with herring and smoked salmon with my secret sauce. And Akaqavit if we can get our hands on it.

  23. Joanna aka Alexa (@alexa11221) says:

    We USED to have all kinds of amazing Christmas and NYE traditions and then my father died and now we really don’t have any. It’s been 11 years so maybe we’ll come up with something eventually, beyond smoked salmon for lunch on Christmas day.

    • Bex says:

      I can sympathize. Mom died 18 years ago (2 weeks before Christmas, no less), and we haven’t celebrated together as a family since. I have a nephew now, though, and I always make sure to spend some time with him around the holidays. Kids make it a lot more fun.

  24. Mockingbird says:

    I didn’t mean to start a tradition, but this will be my tenth year making a standing rib roast from this recipe- The roast is delicious, but really, it’s about the potatoes. They cook in the juices so it’s the one time of year we get them and they are just the most delicious thing. And I make a trifle, the best part of which is the leftovers in the days after, when it all melds together into a gooey, yummy mess. Otherwise, it’s just being with my parents. I’m an only child, we lived far away from any family growing up, and my mom doesn’t like cooking so Thanksgiving was never the big family holiday for us. That was Christmas, even if we weren’t doing anything special. Plus it’s the one time of year having tinsel and glitter and sparkly lights all over your house is acceptable.

  25. GT says:

    We spend Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s day, and all the intervening days with friends/ family, so on Christmas eve, my husband and I take each other out to dinner at King’s Carriage House in NYC (beautiful, old-world, very Masterpiece Theatre-y), and then to candle-lit mass starting at 11:30 pm. Highlight is when church dims ALL the lights except the candles and everyone sings “Silent Night.” I know it sounds corny, but it’s really magical.

  26. c.w. says:

    I was divorced when my kids were fairly young. They would spend Xmas morning with me and then spend that afternoon and evening with their dad. I got into the habit of going to the zoo after their dad picked them up. Most zoos are open (animals HAVE to be fed) and no one is there so it’s like having the zoo to yourself. This year, because I now have a house on the east coast (my kids live in Brooklyn), we’re beginning a new tradition of the kids spending Xmas morning in the city with their dad then coming to my house in the afternoon so we can all go to the beach for a mad dash with the dogs, eat veggie soup and not worry about a thing.

  27. Lynne says:

    I’m lucky enough to live in Southern California, and Christmas day is usually 70 or so degrees. For many years, I played tennis, then we used to go roller blading at the beach wearing reindeer antlers. Now that I’m more staid, my husband and I wake up, open our stockings with our three dogs and then take the dogs on a walk on the beach, usually wearing holiday attire (us and the dogs).

  28. Nancys27 says:

    Chinatown, every Christmas Eve. It’s cliche, maybe, but we love our annual Peking duck.

  29. Turnerm says:

    Knickerboker! Knickerboker! Oh damn I’m not first!!

  30. Turnerm says:

    And I can’t even spell it! Yeah!

  31. Dana says:

    Belting out the Kinks “Father Christmas” has been the one thing that has stayed the same for a long, long time. The food changes, the people sometimes have changed, but that is the constant tradition.

  32. Mary Alice says:

    Since we have no family in the area, we have a Christmas Eve open house – lots of food & drink, people come and stay for an hour or six, sometimes to fortify themselves for a trip to the relative’s house, or to recover from it one their way home. The evening always ends with a drink of very good whiskey and a toast to our dear friends and neighbors.

  33. Lori says:

    My big family in RI decided many years ago that they were tired of having another “traditional” dinner so soon after Thanksgiving and decided to honor everyone’s roots by featuring the cuisine of a different country each year. We’re a family of mutts so it took some years to cover all the bases. Now it’s just basically whatever cuisine sounds appealing, menus are made and duties are divided, even the alcoholic beverages must have something to do with the country chosen.
    My little family here in Texas does some variation of Tex-Mex for Christmas.

  34. gablesgirl says:

    My husband and I are just two. I have no family and his is…well you get the picture. No matter where we have ever been on Christmas Eve he must have pork to honor his Hispanic roots of the typical “Noche Buena” feast. It has been Chinese, Italian, Spanish or Southern. We can always find pig on the menu!

  35. AmyM says:

    Growing up, stockings and gifts from Santa were fair game no matter how early you woke up. But wrapped gifts were a different story. Those waited until after church, when everyone was dressed up, then handed out one at a time and passed around so everyone could what everyone else received. With five kids in the family, it took hours, but it made every gift more special.

  36. Stephanie says:

    Christmas Eve open house! Lots of appetizers – I’m Italian, so many apps are fish-based in order to get in our Seven Fishes. There’s wine, there’s laughter, there are short visits of people popping in and out. It’s one of the few traditions that both my sister and I, in different states, have kept going.

  37. Deborah says:

    We don’t have anything nearly as fun as the ones everyone wrote about, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading all of these! Each one more fun to read then the last.