Happy Thanksgivukkah! Five Things Thanksgiving and Hanukkah Have in Common

Thanksgivukkah is just around the corner—and it won't be again for about 79,000 years

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Kim DeMarco for ModernTribe.com
Kim DeMarco for ModernTribe.com

In a rare alignment of calendars, Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah both fall on Nov. 28 this year. And Americans planning to celebrate this double holiday have dubbed it ThanksgivukkahAt first glance, the festivals might seem completely different. One is dreidels. One is pumpkins. One is kosher. One is pigskins. But here are five things the holidays have in common:

Both are a great excuse to stuff yourself silly. 

Yes, people eat hot dogs on the Fourth of July and sip eggnog on Christmas Eve, but there is no holiday on the American calendar that is more about food than Thanksgiving. Hanukkah, a time to eat latkes and brisket, kugel and challah, is also celebrated by putting delicious things in bellies. “All Jewish holidays are about food,” says Dana Gitell, the Bostonian credited with coining Thanksgivukkah. “And that’s one of the reasons why American Jews love Thanksgiving so much. These are both feasts.” The convergence has set foodies atwitter, inspiring fusion menus and dishes like turkey doughnuts.

Both are rooted in religion.

Hanukkah, of course, is a Jewish holiday. Known as the Festival of Lights, the eight-day celebration commemorates a Jewish military victory and the miracle of oil that lasted eight days when it should have lasted one. As any fourth grader will tell you, Thanksgiving commemorates a harvest feast among Indians and Pilgrims that happened almost 400 years ago. While that might seem secular, those Pilgrims never would have been breaking bread with those Indians if they hadn’t first broken from the Church of England—and fled Europe in search of religious freedom.

Both were started by groups who found refuge in America.

Rabbi Mishael Zion, co-director of the Bronfman Fellowships, points out that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving were both started by people who found a haven in America and flourished there. “Thanksgiving really celebrates not so much America the country, but America the idea,” says Zion. “It’s a place of refuge. It’s also a place of opportunity and mobility and success.” Freedom from want, he says, quoting Franklin Roosevelt, “is what the Jews have found in America. It’s what Pilgrims found in America.”

Both are all about being thankful.

“They both are holidays of gratitude after facing adversity,” says Zion. Two millennia ago, the Jewish people were thankful that their conflict with Greco-Syrian foes was at an end, he says, and today Hanukkah is a fine time to be grateful for religious freedom. Thanksgiving started as an appreciation of a bountiful harvest and has morphed into a day when people count any and all blessings, being it a lovely family or a day off from school.

Both are a reason to go home.

People aren’t flooding public parks or places of religious worship on either of these holidays. People aren’t reciting long Hebrew prayers or poring over the Mayflower manifests either. These are both celebrations that involve sitting at home, catching up with Gram-Gram. “Thanksgiving and Hanukkah don’t belabor the point,” Zion says. “They are both home holidays.” Gitell says that Thanksgivukkah should be a day for fun and a day for unity. She, for one, will be with her family like she is for every Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. “We’re just going to have more food,” she says.

(MORE: Everything You Need to Know About Thanksgivukkah)


When Thanksgivukkah Is About the Entitlements

For some of us Thanksgiving has always been about the gifts.
As a child, I accumulated an abundance of toys due to the happenstance of my
birthday falling on or around the fourth Thursday of November. Relatives I was
unlikely to see the rest of the year came to dinner packing not just a coffee
cake but, out of obligation, a Remco Thinking Boy’s Toy, a Yankee Doodle Test
Center, the Game of Life, Mille Bornes, Labyrinth, a Kenner’s Girder &
Panel Building Set, a Gilbert Erector Set, Rock `Em Sock `Em Robots, a
scale-model Pan Am jetliner, an all-metal gas station with roof parking, a red
caboose for my Lionel Electric Trains. You get the picture.

More than 6 million Americans have the good fortune of a
birthday falling on or near Thanksgiving. But this year, with a spin of the dreidel,
those of us who identify ourselves as Jewish find ourselves in the catbird

Hanukah is typically a holiday best served up on or around
Christmas so that marketers not only get more bang for their buck but hundreds
of thousands of Jewish kids don’t feel left out. Now, for the first time in
anyone’s memory, on this holiday it’s the Christian kids who are going to feel
left out. That's because November 28th is not only Thanksgiving, but also the
first day of Hanukah.

Having been around the table a few times, I can appreciate
my brother’s moroseness on not receiving the largesse of birthday gifts that
came my way every Thanksgiving. How do you explain to a seven-year-old that his
day will come – just not until March.

So, let me impart some wisdom to those kids who will be
viewing Thanksgiving not as a day for saying thanks but as an entitlement. Be
gracious. Act surprised. Show compassion to your non-Jewish friends who may not
understand why you’re getting gifts and they’re not. If a particular aunt gives
you a plastic top instead of a Big Hugs Elmo, throw it back. Just kidding.

As for an adult attending a Thanksgiving dinner, the first
gift always goes to the hostess. The rest go to the kids, escalating in value
the older they are. So, for example, a bag of foil-covered chocolate coins is
fine for five-year-olds, but 11-year-olds will be expecting the kind of Hanukah
gelt they can take to the videogame store. As for guests planning to Skype in
from the Coast, Amazon gift cards should be emailed prior to dessert.

Out-of-place holidays create confusion. Hanukah falling on
Thanksgiving seems as unlikely as Santa Claus waving from a float in the Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day Parade. Oh, wait. Santa Claus is in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Never mind.

Hanukah comes on Thanksgiving twice this century (it happens
again in 2070), but this year I can’t believe my own serendipity. It's the
tenth time my birthday falls directly on Thanksgiving and the first time on the
first day of Hanukah--a veritable triple play of convergence! I mean, what are
the odds? A million-to-one? (Mathematicians are invited to write in.)

So, while I hum another verse of "Happy Thanksgiving To
Me" and contemplate buying my first lottery ticket, let me leave you with this
bit of advice: What better way to say "thanks" than by giving? And this
year giving couldn't be more convenient since there's an excellent chance that eager
receivers will be sitting just a dinner plate or two away.


Thank you for acknowledging what I've always suspected, that 'Thanksgivukkah' is a perfect blend of two holidays involving family, food, and a little guilt that we have it so much easier than the folks who started them.

Here's my musical contribution to the festivities, "Kvelling For Thanksgivukkah" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvlObc_BAvE