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The Fascinating Tale of America's Chinese Christmas Tradition

The Fascinating Tale of America's Chinese Christmas Tradition

What is the #1 day for Chinese food sales in the U.S.? Christmas. Really?!

Larger than any Chinese holiday, Christmas Day drives the most traffic to Chinese restaurants. According to Google Trends, searches for "Chinese Food" spike around Christmas, peaking Christmas Day. This phenomenon became dramatically apparent in 2007, and the jump in "Chinese Food" searches around Christmas grows steeper every year.

GrubHub, the online food delivery service, reported a 152% increase in Chinese food sales Christmas Day 2013, compared to a 30% decrease in American food that same day.1 Christmas Eve 2013 was the second largest day for Chinese food. This year is expected to produce similar results.

Why is this seemingly random cuisine so popular on Christmas? The story of the Chinese Christmas Tradition begins a century ago in New York City's Jewish community.

From 1899 - 1910, New York City's Jewish population more than doubled to one million people (a quarter of the city's population then).2 Around the same time, the number of Chinese restaurants in New York City quadrupled.3 The Jewish community turned to these Chinese restaurants as a way to explore other cuisines without blatantly breaking Kosher Dietary Law. According to the Jewish law, meat and dairy must be kept separate. While Italian and Mexican food contain some form of dairy in almost every dish, Jews knew they would find dairy-less meat in Chinese restaurants.

While Chinese food's appeal grew on the Jewish community, Christmas Day naturally arose as a popular day for the cuisine. With most businesses closed for Christmas, Jewish Americans turned to Chinese restaurants for something to do that day.

As Chinese restaurants expanded across the US, increasingly more Jews could participate in the Chinese Christmas Tradition. Today the number of Chinese restaurants in the US surpassed 41,000 – three times the number of McDonalds. The Chinese Christmas Tradition has grown so popular that there are a number of public references to it, including this Chinese Food on Christmas music video.

In addition to the Jewish community, a growing number of non-Jewish Americans enjoy Chinese on and around Christmas. Chinese restaurants continue to be one of the few restaurants open for those not participating in a home cooked Christmas meal.

Some Chinese restaurants have even taken the Chinese Christmas Tradition to a whole new level with Christmas-themed special menus. Peking Duck serves as the star of the Chinese Christmas menu. According to Google Trend, the search volume for "Peking Duck" peaks the week of Christmas, whereas "General Tso" remains fairly steady throughout the year. Regardless of the Chinese dish of choice on Christmas, it is clear that this once-Jewish tradition is now an American favorite.

  1. Is Chinese Takeout Really More Popular on Christmas?
  2. Why American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas
  3. The untold story of Chinese restaurants in America