Ah, Christmastime in Chicago. The twinkling trees lighting up Michigan Avenue … the catchy Christmas songs on every radio channel ... the young people in green and red sweaters barfing in the snow after a little too much revelry at T-BOX last weekend … (Amiright, Lakeview?) Point is, it's pretty much impossible to escape the Christmas spirit around here lately. And let's be honest – why would you want to? Peppermint mochas are the BEST.
Starbucks holiday concoctions aside, as Jews, it's hard not to feel just a little extra left out this time year, especially with Chanukah as far in the rearview mirror as it's ever been. Our natural response, of course, is to cling to our customs of eating Chinese food and seeing movies on Christmas. As lovely and time-honored as that practice is, however, we think Jews can be a little less predictable.
So, Oy!Chicagoans, we've hand-curated a list of 18 ways to entertain yourself, your friends and your family this Christmas instead of crying into your fried rice over how cool Christmas is and arguing about whether to see Saving Mr. Banks or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
1. Get your party on
You have nowhere to go on Christmas Day – which leaves Christmas Eve open for (responsible) partying! So don't miss the Matzo Bash, as featured in our 18 Best Ways to Meet Jewish Young Adults in Chicago. Enjoy drinks and dancing with basically every other Jewish young adult in Chicago from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Maybe you'll even see Santa finishing up his run on your stumble home. Also, maybe Oy!Chicago is co-sponsoring it, with $5 of every ticket sold through this link going to benefit the Jewish United Fund... IT'S GONNA BE EPIC, Y'ALL. Did we mention registering through this link?
2. Go on a Christmas lights scavenger hunt
Zoo Lights cruelly shuts down Dec. 24 and 25, but the show in Chicago's neighborhoods goes on! Grab some friends and some thermoses full of cider (spiking optional), and enjoy the labors of the people crazy enough to climb ladders in the winter. You can do this by foot or by car and even make a scavenger hunt out of it! Drivers, we recommend Lincolnwood, Park Ridge or a drive up Sheridan Road. Or if you're really dedicated, check out the Aurora Festival of Lights. Walkers, just get out of Lakeview.
3. Make reservations at one of these 60 not-Chinese restaurants
Nothing against the traditional Jewish Christmas Lo-Mein, but if Chinese food's not your thing, fear not. As Chicagoans, we're lucky to live in a big, diverse city with a wide range of fellow non-Christmas celebrators. There are other options. Open Table has a list.
4. Take care of online errands
The Internet doesn't close on Christmas, people.
5. Scope out after-Christmas deals
Black Friday is kid stuff. Everyone knows the day after Christmas is when the REAL discount shopping begins.
6. Catch up with long-distance Jewish friends
Always trying to schedule a Google hangout sesh with your old Hillel crew or a Skype date with your bestie in New York, but can never find the time? Ask what they're doing on, say, Dec. 25.
7. Have a gingerbread shul competition
Gingerbread's kosher – who says we can't get in on the fun? Get some blue and white frosting and you're set.
8. Break out the board games
Cards Against Humanity has a new holiday expansion pack. And it was (partly) made by Jews from Highland Park! Hey, it's better than getting into another argument over the legitimacy of Scrabble words.
9. Spend quality time with your family pet
You never have enough time in the day to give your pet some love. And come to mention it, your favorite fuzzy friend would look adorable in a reindeer costume.
10. Go sledding
Channel your inner Evel Kneidel! We bet there won't be long lines at all the best sledding spots – if you can find a hill in the Midwest, that is. Hint: There are plenty of man-made ones in the suburbs. Here's a handy list of top Chicago sled hills to get you started. (Bonus: You'll go faster with all the Thanksgivukkah pounds you've been complaining about needing to lose.)
11. Have a Christmas movie marathon
Half of them have Jewish actors or directors. That counts!
12. Sing Jewish Christmas karaoke
Annoyed that every radio station is playing Christmas music? Turn it into a parody sing-off!
13. Take a nap
You've got a day off – time to take that weekday nap you've been dying to have since you graduated college.
You know who doesn't have Christmas off? People who work in hospitals. And homeless shelters. And nursing homes. You know who doesn't have to miss Christmas dinner with their family to lend a hand? You. For holiday volunteering tips, check out this post.
15. Perform a Christmas miracle for someone not Jewish
Gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) are important all year 'round, but for some, they are even more appreciated around Christmastime. Make a handmade card to send to a sick child or to troops away from home, use your time off to clean out your closet and fill a bag with old clothes to give away, or if you're adventurous, head outside and bring a lunch to someone on the street, or look for smaller opportunities for kindness.
16. Become a winter mixologist
Hot toddies, hard cider, taffy appletinis – there are lots of religiously neutral and totally delicious holiday cocktail options out there. Try one, try two … try them all! You're not going anywhere …
17. Bake up a storm
You know what Jewish version of a Christmas treat would go great with a hot toddy? Fruitcake soaked in Manischewitz. Or, get a head start on Purim and bake a trial run of hamentashen in every flavor so that you're ready in a few months. Whatever recipe you choose, nothing's more perfect than baking to fill your sad, cold apartment with warmth and cheer.
18. Screw it. You're just going to eat Chinese food and see a movie anyway
At least we tried.
As Tevye says … it's tradition!