A Kosher Christmas: ’Tis the Season to Be Jewish

Rutgers University Press   2012


Christmas v. Chanukah, also known as the “December Dilemma,” is the almost inevitable duel that confronts many American Jews each December. Should we, as Jews, participate in the contagious cheer of Christmastime, or do we shun it? Should we feel guilty for enjoying the magnificent lights and festive nature of the “holiday spirit” in America?

Through its exploration of modern December customs – such as why we give gifts on Chanukah, and the origin of the Christmas tree – A Kosher Christmas attempts to answer these questions by systematically tracing the evolution of the Christmas and Chanukah customs we are familiar with today. And in the process, Joshua Eli Plaut illustrates how American Jews have developed “distinctive strategies to thrive and survive” in twentieth century America. Throughout the book Plaut develops his theory that Jews not only helped shape the public observance of Christmas, but they also helped redefine the public and private nature of Chanukah by turning December into a joyous holiday season for all religions and faiths.

Do not be fooled by the light-hearted cover and title of this book; A Kosher Christmas is a scholarly work that presents a detailed account of the way both Christmas and Chanukah observances have developed over the past 160 years in America. Through extensive fieldwork Plaut presents a robust and vastly detailed analysis of December trends – both old and new – by looking at everything from White House parties to interviews with Chanukah postal stamp enthusiasts. He traces the traditions of Jews from Germany to San Francisco to New York City, as he explores the roots of American Jewish pop culture.

A Kosher Christmas is a unique observation of American Jewry and the ambivalence Jews face as we simultaneously try to integrate ourselves into American culture, while, according to Plaut, helping to shape aspects of it at the same time. Although slightly humorous at times, this book is recommended for readers looking for an academic study of American Jewish cultural traditions.

Read Joshua Eli Plaut's Posts for the Visiting Scribe

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