It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that might just rank up there with the return of Halley’s Comet, Super Bowl III or the Apollo 11 moonwalk.
Call it (as many already have) Thanksgivukkah, the confluence that arrives this week of the secular holiday of Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah this year begins at sunset Wednesday. So, Thanksgiving will mark the first full day of Hanukkah, and that’s a combination of words no one sees, or will see, very often.
Hanukkah and Thanksgiving last shared the same date during the 1800s, although, technically, there wasn’t a national Thanksgiving Day holiday back then. And it won’t come again, according to some estimates for another 77,000 years or so.
Given both Thanksgivukkah’s rarity and its novelty, it’s not surprising that Americans — never ones to miss a chance to celebrate something new — have jumped all over it.
Commemorative T-shirts? Check. Collectible doodads? Check. Hanukkah turkey menorahs? Check (seriously).
But beyond all of the novelty and well-meaning fun is a more practical question: How do you do a Thanksgiving-Hanukkah mashup when there’s no real precedent for anyone having done one before?
Hanukkah, sometimes referred to as the “festival of lights,” commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem amid a backdrop of religious persecution in about 165 B.C.E (before the common era), when a one-day supply of oil to light the temple’s menorah miraculously lasted for eight days.
The dates of the eight-day celebration each year are calculated according to the lunar-based Hebrew calendar. This year, Hanukkah begins at sunset on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. That makes Thanksgiving the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving evening the time to begin the holiday’s second day with the lighting of the second candle in the Hanukkah menorah.
That puts Hanukkah in an odd position this year, mostly because it’s the Christian holiday of Christmas, not Thanksgiving, that many (non-Jewish) people associate (incorrectly) with Hanukkah.
“In American society, Hanukkah typically falls in December and more often than not seems to fall nearer Christmas,” explains Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Congregation Ner Tamid. “Therefore, we get all these questions — Is Hanukkah Jewish Christmas? and so forth, and we say it’s not.”
This year’s confluence of Hanukkah with Thanksgiving — and Hanukkah’s distance from Christmas this year — at least can make that kind of confusion less likely. However, this year’s confluence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving may present Jewish families with a challenge in figuring out how to celebrate both.
From figuring out how, or if, to merge traditional Thanksgiving and Hanukkah holiday menus to remembering to break away from the late football game to light the second menorah candle on Thanksgiving Day, Jewish families likely will find themselves working from a different holiday playbook this year.
And if all of this is strange for Americans, imagine how odd it must seem to someone like Lior Sibony, who came to Las Vegas about three months ago from Tel Aviv, Israel, and is teaching Jewish philosophy and history at the Adelson Educational Campus.
Ironically, Sibony first learned about Thanksgivukkah from an Israeli news report he saw shortly after moving here. But while Thanksgivukkah is “a big thing in the Jewish world right now in America,” he notes, Thanksgiving is “an American holiday, so we (in Israel) don’t have that celebration.
“I’m not going to tell you that people are completely excited about it in Israel, but it’s absolutely an item because the connection with Jews in America and Jews who live in Israel is very strong, very tight.”
Sibony has lived in the United States at a few other points in his life, so he’s well-versed in the Thanksgiving holiday. He figures this year’s confluence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving is a positive thing in that it underscores the freedom Jewish people in the United States enjoy to express their pride in being both American and Jewish.
Celebrating the holidays at the same time emphasizes that “every Jewish person here is truly American, 100 percent American and 100 percent Jewish,” he says.
Also, Sibony says, the theme of thankfulness — thankfulness for the miracle of the oil then and thankfulness for what we have now — provides Hanukkah and Thanksgiving with a common theme.
“Personally, I can tell you Hanukkah would be one of my favorite holidays,” adds Sibony, who expects American Jews will “find some interesting ways” to celebrate this year, including devising dinners that combine the best of both holidays.
Good call. For example, Honey Salt, 1031 S. Rampart Blvd. is offering a Thanksgivukkah menu from Nov. 25 through Dec. 2 that includes potato latkes, braised short ribs, Brussels sprouts, pearl onions, butternut squash puree, pumpkin cheesecake and warm Hanukkah doughnuts.
Honey Salt owners Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla have been married for about 11 years. Blau is Jewish, Canteenwalla has “a multicultural background,” Blau says, and their son, Cole, 9, is being raised in the Jewish faith.
Blau says that, when she was growing up, “the Jewish holidays were about food and family. So the confluence of (Hanukkah with) Thanksgiving really extends more to a different palette of dishes than anything else.
“So it’s kind of an interesting, but a natural, confluence, but it’s a uniquely American confluence.”
When the couple throws their annual Hanukkah party this year, the menu will include Blau’s latkes — Canteenwalla is the chef in the family, she says, “but everybody loves my latkes” — and a homemade cranberry compote instead of the usual Hanukkah apple.
Then, while Blau usually makes pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner and doughnuts for Hanukkah dinner, “we’re going to make doughnuts with a pumpkin-bourbon kind of caramel sauce to go with them, and then we’ll do the same at Honey Salt.”
And, while Thanksgiving dinner usually includes both a turkey and a ham, this year a traditional Hanukkah brisket will substitute in for the latter.
Meanwhile, this year’s Thanksgiving Day celebration at the couple’s household will include the usual slate of family activities, beginning with the Macy’s parade on television and continuing through “a lot of football,” Blau says.
Blau notes that, because the celebration of Hanukkah extends over an eight-day period, “there’s not really a specific tradition of what you do, whereas Thanksgiving is one day with the family, so there’s no conflicting tradition.”
Roz Goldman, who with business partner Ilana Shapiro owns Judaica on Wheels, an Internet and mail-order Judaica store, says people do seem to be captivated this year by the novelty of Thanksgivukkah.
“It’s really kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Goldman says. “My kids are going to remember when we had Thanksgiving and Hanukkah on the same day.”
Goldman (who says that although the store’s website is now down, orders still can be placed by calling 702-683-2470 or 702-497-3499) says the big change in her household this year will be that she’s not decorating for Thanksgiving.
Instead, she says, “I’m putting all my Hanukkah stuff up.”
Cheryl Wingate says her family is “doing Thanksgiving and Hanukkah on the same night, on Thursday. We’ll have all the traditional fixings for Thanksgiving, but then we’ll also make some traditional Hanukkah fixings.”
Wingate’s two daughters also probably will incorporate Hanukkah activities — playing dreidel, for instance — into their usual Thanksgiving evening entertainment.
The two holidays mesh well thematically, Wingate says. Both are about “being grateful and being thankful for what you have, and just the miracle of family and love and being able to be around the people that you love most.”
Kristen Silberman says having the first day of Hanukkah fall on Thanksgiving actually “makes it even more special. You can have the traditional Thanksgiving dinner and put in applesauce latkes for dessert along with pies, and that sort of thing.”
Silberman calls hers a “blended family, both Jewish and Episcopalian,” and says this year’s melding of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will serve as “a really big kickoff to the entire holiday.”
Still, the timing of the holidays may prompt some to alter their holiday routines a bit. For example, Akselrad says Congregation Ner Tamid usually holds its community Hanukkah dinner and celebration on Friday during Hanukkah.
This year, however, he says, “We’ll move it a little further into the holiday.” It will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, to separate it a bit from the celebration of Thanksgiving (for information, call 702-733-6292).
If nothing else, this year’s meshing of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving can offer — besides the chance to score some once-in-a-lifetime Thanksgivukkah collectibles — a means of looking at both holidays from a slightly different, out-of-the-ordinary perspective.
“I think it’s kind of exciting,” Wingate says. “It’s something different, a new way to celebrate the holiday.”
Contact reporter John Przybys at email@example.com or 702-383-0280.