A Kosher Christ­mas: Tis the Sea­son to Be Jewish

  • Review
By – December 3, 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

Woody Guthrie’s Hanukkah Songs

So You Want to Dress Up As Santa?!


It’s Hanukkah Time! Where’s the Party?

What is That Song Play­ing in My Ear?

Eliyahu Rosen cur­rent­ly lives in Boston, MA with his wife Jen­ni, and is an MBA-MS can­di­date at the Boston Uni­ver­si­ty School of Management.

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