The rare convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving has caused some Jewish families to debut quirky ceremonial objects and menu items, from menorahs made of turkey candleholders, to turkey-shaped challah bread and latkes topped with cranberry relish. The collision of holidays, dubbed “Thanksgivukkah” by some, won’t happen again for close to 80,000 years, by one widely shared estimate, making it truly a once-in-a-lifetime celebration.
Hanukkah meals traditionally include dishes that contain oil in their recipes, but some families are including turkey and a few traditional Thanksgiving trimmings to their menus to incorporate the American holiday.
Although the two holidays are completely different, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons on Woods Lane in East Hampton said that both holidays have a similar purpose—gratitude and sharing.
“Thanksgiving is a national time where people are conscious to just stop—It doesn’t matter who you are or whether you have faith at all—to stop and think about the precious blessings, which are ours as Americans,” he said. “For American Jews, America is very precious to us as well. Those who have lived outside of the states have not had freedoms and the potential possibilities for their lives and the self-fulfillment that comes as being a part of the fabric of society as we have and as we do have in the United States of America.”
Despite the similarity, some might think that celebrating them together might dilute either.
Eileen Moskowitz, the administrator at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, said that while families are celebrating both, it is Rabbi Leon Morris’s thought that the two should be thought of as distinct holidays and not as one big celebration.
But Rabbi Ari Korenblit, assistant rabbi at the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, said that celebrating them together can actually complement each celebration.
“The fact is that one doesn’t interfere with another—on the contrary, one enhances the other,” he said. “They’re not contradictory. They stand for more celebration.”
Rabbi Zimmerman from East Hampton said he sees that both holidays are in harmony with one another, too.
“I don’t think you can have too many holidays,” he said. “It’s good to be able to spend joyous moments, in which we embrace our shared values, with family that comes together.”
Thanksgiving—held the fourth Thursday of November, and thus the latest possible in the month this year—is closely associated with the pilgrims’ Thanksgiving feast in 1623, held as a celebration of good fortune after rain finally soaked their drought-ridden fields, and supplies arrived from overseas. But, according to the Smithsonian Institution, both Native Americans and European settlers held many such services prior to that date.
Through the years, such celebrations continued on different dates until 1941, when Congress passed a joint resolution officially declaring Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November.
Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. The Jewish calendar is primarily based on the lunar cycle, and its dates fluctuate with respect to other calendar systems. This is why the first day of Hanukkah can fall anywhere between November 28 and December 26.
The celebration of Hanukkah stems from the victory of a small, greatly outnumbered army of Jews, known as the Maccabees, over the Greek army that occupied the Holy Land in the second century BCE, and the kindling of the Menorah in the Holy Temple. When the Maccabees liberated the temple from the Greek invaders, they had only a small amount of oil to fuel the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and nights.
In light of the miracle of oil, Rabbi Zimmerman said that American Jews are doubly grateful this Thanksgiving.
“When we light the additional candle each night—the symbol of our mission to spread light to the world by how we live and care for each other and our country—it is a very proud message shared by all Americans,” he said. “Gratitude without sharing is impossible. You’ve got to do both.”