In general, the classic Jewish ways of dealing with this most beloved of Christian holidays have included eating Chinese food, going to the movies, or if you’re a real mensch, working at the office as a way of saying thank you to Christian colleagues who fill in for you when you take off for Jewish holidays or leave early for Shabbat. For myself, when I lived in New York, my wife and I used to mark the occasion by going out for drinks at Aquavit, a fancy and festive Scandinavian restaurant.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, without whom there would be no Christian religion. So for Jews the day also poses the question of how we’re to regard the rival and younger faith. I wrote a whole a book about the reasons faithful Jews have given for rejecting Jesus, but this doesn’t tell us whether, from a Jewish traditional and authentic perspective, we should feel that his birth was on the whole a good thing or bad thing.
Christianity poses a theological challenge to us. Both the Hebrew Bible and our own oral and rabbinic tradition going back millennia have seen the Jewish people as called upon by God to transform the world spiritually. Yet spiritually, in any practical day-to-day sense, our impact on others has been and remains minimal. This has become especially painful in recent generations when Jews achieved in America all the freedom, acceptance and influence that we could ever hope for in a gentile country. In the spiritual realm, we’ve done very little with our privileged position.