A Christmas Glossary for Jews

Trimming the tree? Figgy pudding? Christmastime can be confusing for Jews, but I'm here to help.

For Jews who didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas, the holiday season can be a confusing time. But we don’t want to put the burden on Christians to have to teach us about their traditions: We need to do the work ourselves. Over the course of several years of immersing myself (respectfully!) into the Christian culture, i.e. America, I’ve learned some things I’d like to pass on to my fellow Jews. All of this is 100% true and fact-checked by Dunder, the most pedantic of Santa’s reindeer.

Types of Christmas trees:

White spruce: Despite its name, a pointy green tree.

Blue spruce: Despite its name, a pointy green tree.

Douglas fir: A pointy green tree named Doug.

Fraser fir: A pointy green tree that hosts a long-running psychology-based advice radio show on Seattle’s KACL.

Christmas activities:

Trimming the tree: Put the shears down — the Christmas tree does not need bangs. Trimming the tree means decorating the tree with tinsel and ornaments and such and not, I repeat, giving your tree a cute little haircut, even though it just went through a break-up (with the ground).

Deck the halls: Deck-orate the halls and also the non-halls (i.e. rooms) for Christmas, especially if company is coming over. This is the Jewish version of trying to hide all your embarrassing tchotchkes because company is coming over, except it’s the exact opposite.

Nativity play: A production, often starring children, that recounts the birth of Jesus. Theatrics, costuming, telling the same story over and over, everyone making a big to-do about the new baby — certainly not not Jewish.

Caroling: Staying in on Christmas Eve to watch “Carol.”

Christmas decorations:

Stockings: Like the socks you get for Hanukkah, but large and full of choking hazards.

Wreath: Like a lulav but round.

String lights: Just like the Hanukkah candles represent the miracle of the oil and the perseverance of our people in the face of hate, string lights represent a very high electric bill for the month of December.

Tinsel: Oooh sparkly.

Christmas phrases: 

‘Tis the season to be jolly: Unlike Jewish holidays, Christmas celebrates happiness and good spirits and cheer and not almost getting your entire peoplehood decimated by those who hate you yet again. Seems weird but OK.

Joy to the world: Believers in Jesus Christ tend to add a “J” in front of the common phrase “Oy to the world” to connote their faith.

Jingle All the Way: The second best 1996 film starring Sinbad, after “Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco.”

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: This is a lie. The most wonderful time of the year is actually the day after Easter when all the Cadbury Creme Eggs go on sale.

Christmas food:

Eggnog: Like an egg cream but noggier.

Baked ham: Like a turkey but treyfer.

Fruit cake: Like a regular cake but worse.

Figgy pudding: Not like Jello pudding at all, please don’t go into this expecting Jello pudding.

Christmas characters:

Santa Claus: I think the obvious move here is to compare Santa’s long white beard to a rabbi’s long white beard, but almost all of the rabbis I know are young bisexual women, so.

Mrs. Claus: Literally nobody knows anything about Mrs. Claus except for the fact that she’s married to Santa. She doesn’t even have a first name, but I want to say it’s Judy.

Rudolph: I shit you not, the red-nosed reindeer is actually meant to represent the ostracization that Robert Louis May, co-writer of the classic song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” felt growing up as a Jew with a large nose.

The Grinch: The Grinch is a cynical misanthrope who feels like an outsider in his own community and hates everything to do with the Christmas season. Make of that what you will.

Christmas Songs:

“White Christmas” by Irving Berlin: Written by a Jew.

“Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire” by Mel Torme: Written by a Jew.

 “Santa Baby” by Joan Javits and Phil Springer: Written by Jews.

“Let it Snow” by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne: Written by Jews.

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