By Julie Wolf

Many of us have grown accustomed to the “December dilemma,” the term used to describe the yearly meeting (or close to it) of Hanukkah and Christmas. But this year, we’ve got a truly novel occurrence to contend with: The first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving. This year, instead of retiring to our living rooms after polishing off the turkey and pumpkin pie, we’ll remain gathered round the table, to light the candle commemorating the second night of Hanukkah. 

This happy but rare coincidence—the two won’t overlap again for another 79,000 years—has been a marketer’s dream, giving birth to the hybrid holiday Thanksgivukkah. Online merchandisers have seized on it, putting out all manner of greeting cards, t-shirts, and even ritual items, clever but kitschy. (In keeping with Jewish teachings of tzedakah and gratitude, the proceeds of at least some of this merchandise will benefit charities.)

We wanted to know what our Metrowest clergy and educators thought about Thanksgivukkah, starting with the name. Is there a teaching moment in Thanksgiving and Hanukkah sharing a place at the proverbial table? How can we merge the traditions of the two holidays to make a meaningful and memorable celebration, and what can our children take away from their double holiday?

Cantor Jodi Schechtman of Temple Beth Am in Framingham and Cantor Ken Richmond of Temple Israel of Natick shared their thoughts with us.

Cantor Jodi Schechtman
Spiritual Leader, Temple Beth Am

I remember one year, sometime in the early ’90s, when Hanukkah began the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving, and we thought that was early. This year, knowing that Rosh Hashanah was just after Labor Day, it stood to reason that Hanukkah would also be very early. Just how early was certainly a surprise to me. The last time this happened was 1888!

Because Hanukkah is not a major holiday on the Jewish calendar—although most American Jews have grown it into a big reason to celebrate—at first I didn’t really give the pairing a tremendous amount of thought. But there are some themes that link the two holidays. Both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are primarily celebrated at home with family. While other Jewish holidays require synagogue services, the lighting of the Chanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) and the sharing of gelt or gifts are activities that are done in the home, as is, of course, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. And certainly one could compare the Pilgrims and the Maccabees, as they were both on a quest for freedom.

I’m not a big fan of making this coincidence of dates into an opportunity for sales of menorahs with turkeys on them, but I can certainly appreciate the opportunity for some creative food suggestions: Sweet potato latkes with cranberry applesauce, challah stuffing, and pumpkin kugel are a few things that may make their way on to our family’s dinner table this year.

I will still be referring to two separate holidays, though—Thanksgiving and Hanukkah—rather than combining the name. Judaism teaches us that we should not intermingle joyous occasions. Each of these holidays is a reason to celebrate, and I am in favor of having as many reasons to celebrate as possible. I am proud to be American and proud to be a Jew, and thrilled to be able to celebrate my American heritage and my religious freedom. 

Cantor Ken Richmond
Family Educator, Temple Israel of Natick

At Temple Israel of Natick, we are very excited about Thanksgivukkah! (I’m not crazy about the name, but it’s hard to fight it.) We are planning a Friday night dinner, Tot Shabbat, Synaplex Saturday morning, and Sunday morning (Nov. 24) Thanksgivukkah party for families with young children to help commemorate it. We have been learning about it in our Hebrew school and nursery school.

For me, the coolest thing about Thanksgivukkah is that it helps us focus on Jewish time and how the Jewish calendar interacts with the Gregorian calendar. It was cool and rare having all the fall holidays, even Simchat Torah, in September this year. Our son Velvel, who was born on Sept. 14, a few days before Rosh Hashanah a few years ago, had his birthday on Yom Kippur, and my father-in-law, who shares the same birthday, had never had it on Yom Kippur during his whole life, as the Jewish holidays have not been that “early” for generations.
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah do share some things in common, especially being thankful for our blessings and celebrating with food, family, and friends. As with any holiday, we can use it as a reason to give tzedakah (charity), to help share our blessings with others. Thanksgiving also has much in common with Sukkot, our fall harvest festival that also features much thanksgiving. Hanukkah was originally a makeup holiday for Sukkot, which the Maccabees had not been been able to celebrate that year. That is one of the reasons that Hanukkah lasts for eight days and why we sing the festive thanksgiving psalms of Hallel in synagogue each morning of Hanukkah. Finally, the intersection of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah help us to appreciate our unique roles as Jewish Americans or American Jews, and how lucky we are to be a part of a great country and a great people, both of which have contributed so much to the world.

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