A festival of lights and thanks
On ‘Thanksgivukka,’ a mash-up of holidays
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
Pilgrims playing dreidel? Maccabees eating turkey?
It’s a topsy turvy Thanksgivukka. By now you’ve heard the hype, you’ve pondered the menu, and you’ve figured out whether to light the menurkey before or after the Thanksgiving nap — I mean the evening prayers.
Unless your head is full of stuffing, you know that it’s about to be Thanksgivukka, when Thanksgiving and Hanukka fall on the same day.
Hanukka will start the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 27, making Thanksgiving Day the first full day of the eight-day Jewish holiday. The last time this would have happened was 1861 — two years before Thanksgiving was designated a federal holiday.
Blame or credit the Jewish calendar, whose months line up with the lunar cycle, while the years stay synced with the solar cycle. Physicist and Jewish calendar maven Jonathan Mizrachi posits that the fourth Thursday in November and 25 Kislev won’t coincide again until the year 79,811, although, because Passover has to fall in the spring, the Jewish calendar will have to be adjusted long before then.
Like any once-in-70 millennia moment, it has also been a great opportunity for entrepreneurs and big businesses alike. Manischewitz set aside $2 million for an ad campaign linked to the convergence. Modern Tribe is selling a T-shirt on its “Thanksgivukkah” website (Modern Tribe’s founder, Dana Gitell, is said to have trademarked the double “k” spelling of the word in 2012). A nine-year-old New York City boy, Asher Weintraub, introduced his Menurkey — a turkey-shaped menora — on Kickstarter in August, and it’s been featured in New York magazine and The New York Times.
Zucker Bakery in New York City is offering turkey- and cranberry-filled doughnuts for the greasy festivals of freedom, and a bake shop in California is offering a turkey-shaped pull-apart hallah.
The calendrical confluence also has been a boon for educators and clergy, who have been jumping at the chance to put a fresh spin on Hanukka, and perhaps are happy to avoid the now tiresome clash between the Festival of Lights and Christmas.
Many are noting that both holidays are festivals about religious freedom. The Pilgrims left England seeking a place to practice their religion; the Maccabees refused to assimilate into Greek culture and fought to recover and rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem.
As Rabbi Mishael Zion wrote in an e-Jewish Philanthropy column earlier this month, the sum is greater than the two parts. “A Thanksgiving-style family meal with Hanukka-style stories asks us to place the individual narrative on a longer trajectory — why did we come here, how did we achieve the things for which we are grateful, and where do we — individuals, community, and country — go from here. That is what the dual holiday should be,” he wrote. “It should turn a generation of immediate gratification into one of rooted gratitude.”
In his lighthearted November column for his synagogue newsletter, Rabbi David Nesson of Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael described how Pilgrims and Maccabees both “faced down the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘God forbids’ with confidence, action, and prayer” in pursuit of freedom of religion. He continued, “Both survived and thrived, and became powerful moments in the foundational stories of America and of Judaism.”
Local schools are holding Thanksgivukka parties to get the celebration rolling. Students at the Abraham Kaplan-Nathan Bohrer Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph will be dunking for latkes instead of apples at their annual holiday parties. (Presumably, they won’t be floating in a vat of hot oil.)
At Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, students will come home with turkey handprints decorating their Hanukka candle drip mats, and religious school students will be imagining what would have happened if the Maccabees and the Pilgrims had met.
On the home front, plenty of hosts, like Pamela Pecs Cytron of Montclair, are finding a great creative outlet in Thanksgivukka. She will print formal menus for her guests that will include a bit of the history “of what makes this day so special,” she said.
The decor will blend the holidays. “I’m going to blend a nice blue tone within our traditional autumn decorations. The blue will stand out in napkins and blue lace on the table,” she said. “The menora will be made out of a small pumpkin, apples, and baby squashes — we’ll use it for a centerpiece as well.”
Her menu includes chicken apple matza ball soup; deep fried turkey (for the oil); something she calls “stuffing latkes, made out of hallah of course”; beet and zucchini latkes; green beans; pumpkin mashed potatoes; apple doughnuts; and fresh cranberry chutney.
For Bonnie Colletti, a member of B’nai Abraham, this will be the second year that she’ll be marking what she prefers to call Thannukkah.
“We celebrated Thanksgiving during Hanukka last year because of family schedule conflicts,” she explained. Along with sweet potato latkes, turkey, and menoras, she said, “We had to say what we are thankful for before we received our gifts.” This year she plans to make a menora out of tiny pumpkins.
And like Cytron, her table will feature some blue mixed in with the autumn colors. “Adding a little blue to the orange brings focus to each holiday — reminding us to be thankful for all the blessings and miracles in our lives,” she said. “More than the food served, this is the feeling I try to go for.”
The Madison-based Chabad of Southeast Morris County will add a Hanukka twist to its annual “Thanksgiving Dinners for the Homebound” initiative by including latkes in the 500 traditional turkey dinners to be delivered free of charge to homebound individuals throughout Morris County.
“Hanukka is a holiday when we express our gratitude and give thanks to God; how wonderful that this year it coincides with Thanksgiving, a day that our entire country is expressing thanks and gratitude as well,” said Rabbi Shalom Lubin, Chabad’s executive director, in a news release.