It’s been largely played for laughs, but the coincidence of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah is no laughing matter for many Jews, who are struggling to preserve the religious significance of the day while competing with holiday demands, football games and the starting gun for the year-end shopping rush.
Many observant Jews say they are split as to whether or not they should integrate Thanksgiving into their Hanukkah festivities. Some worry that the secular spirit of Thanksgiving will dilute the religious importance of Hanukkah.
“For me, Hanukkah falls into the same category as Christmas and Diwali; it’s a solstice holiday, bringing light in the midst of darkness,” said Joe Appel, communications director for Rosemont Market, in an interview with the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. “That’s different from Thanksgiving, which is a harvest celebration, a recognition of two cultures coming together. Both of these themes are worthy of celebration and to mash them up you lose some of the significance,” he said.
Lori Rashty, a teacher at Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, Mich., agrees, noting the extra time needed to prepare the meals traditionally associated with the two holidays. “For me it’s a little overwhelming ‘cause I don’t have time to get ready for Hanukkah,” she lamented in an interview with The Associated Press. “I feel like personally it takes away a little bit from Hanukkah.”
Thanksgiving was established by President Lincoln in 1863, but the calendar convergence with Hanukkah has happened only once, in 1888. And thanks to the quirks of unaligned calendars, it’s not supposed to happen again for literally tens of thousands of years.
Because the lunar-based Jewish calendar is increasingly out of sync with the solar calendar, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving won’t line up again until the year 79811.
“The Jewish calendar is lunar-based, which means that, ironically enough, we, as Jews, live with our feet in two worlds. There’s the Gregorian calendar, which much of the world uses, and at the same time, we’re functioning on the Hebrew lunar calendar,” says Rabbi Elyse Winnick of the Brandeis University Interfaith Chaplaincy.
“As a result of being on this lunar schedule, our year shifts incrementally on the Gregorian calendar, and as the holiday moves further and further away from the season we expect it in, we have a leap month — not unlike February on the Gregorian calendar — it just comes a little less often. Leap month is this particular year.”
Other groups have been eagerly awaiting the Nov. 28 “Thanksgivukkah,” the term trademarked in late 2012 by Massachusetts resident Dana Gitell to note the convergence.
Manischewitz, the leading manufacturer of kosher food products, has launched a multimillion-dollar media campaign to promote its Cranberry Latkes and Turkey Pastrami Matzo Ball Soup for what its calling “Thanksgivukah” — only one “k,” thank you.
A turkey-shaped menorah, nicknamed a “menurkey,” became a runaway success on the Kickstarter crowd-funding website thanks to the creative insight of a fourth-grader from New York City.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino even declared Thursday “Thanksgivukkah.”
Amid the excitement, some religious leaders believe that both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah can be seamlessly combined by examining their common themes.
“After a bit of reflection, we can conclude that there is nothing unsavory in celebrating Hanukkah and Thanksgiving together,” said Rabbi David Kudan of Congregation Agudaas Achim-Ezrath Israel in Malden, Mass.
“In a fascinating way, the idea of Thanksgivukkah is not such a stretch, as both are thanksgiving festivals based on the Biblical festival. Both are related to the desire to heal from a devastating war and to express gratitude for having survived, to promote a vision of a future time when peace will reign once more. Both tell us that we should take the long view that good will triumph over evil. Both festivals express our faith that even a tiny flame can illuminate a place of darkness.”
Mr. Winnick agrees, adding that the holiday hybrid is all about carefully balancing common themes with unique celebrations.
“We walk a very fine line between selling out our holiday celebrations by going to crazy extremes to highlight the relationship between the two, and, on the other side, really using it as a moment to celebrate and reflect on how fortunate we are to have this meal and this conversation,” Mr. Winnick said.
Jewish scholars generally contend that the holiday mash-up won’t dilute the importance of Hanukkah.
“This is more of a curiosity than a challenge,” said Marc Caplan, a professor of Yiddish culture at Johns Hopkins University, adding that Thanksgiving has more in common with Hanukkah than does the usual holiday mash-up with Christmas.
Eliyahu Stern, an assistant professor of religious studies at Yale University, believes Thanksgiving adds richer meaning to Hanukkah. “Celebrating Hanukkah alongside Thanksgiving offers Jews the opportunity to reflect upon America’s deep commitment to religious freedom.”
“Hanukkah is eight glorious nights, it’s not as [if] Thanksgiving eclipses Hanukkah,” said Miriam Udel, a professor at Emory University’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies. “The next day will [still] be Hanukkah, not Thanksgiving.’”
Others agree that the culinary challenges will prove worthwhile.
“I’m going to make a turkey, cranberry sauce and latkes. That sounds quite delightful, actually,” said Ross Diamond, executive director of George Mason University’s Hillel.
“Potato latkes will go very well with turkey,” predicted Mr. Caplan.