‘Thanksgivukkah?’ Let’s talk turkey

It will be almost six decades until the holidays overlap again, so read how one literary figure got the most out of this one.

Macy's Day Thanksgiving parade 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Macy's Day Thanksgiving parade 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘So, which night of Hanukka do you want to get to get together with the family?” my wife asked casually.
I let out a faint moan. I had no desire to go through the motions of yet another annual family Hanukka party with my wife’s relatives.
It’s the same every year. We have her entire family over, her Uncle Benny lights the Hanukka candles, we manage to sing one off-key stanza of “Maoz Tzur,” and then everyone pigs out on the not-so-tasty jelly doughnuts her Aunt Esti brings over.
Worse yet, nobody leaves – they just stick around.
Besides, how could it be Hanukka already? It was still November. Wasn’t Hanukka supposed to start in mid- December, when all my non-Jewish friends and former co-workers in America start sending me “Season’s Greetings” emails with photos of their blonde wives, one perfect child and three dogs? “Nu?” my wife nudged me. “We can’t do it on Wednesday night, and all of next week is busy for everyone else.
That only leaves the second night. So, what do you think about having them over on Thursday night, the second candle of Hanukka?” I reluctantly reached for my Bank of America desk calendar (the one they send me every year, long after I closed my account and moved to Israel) and flipped to Thursday, November 28, the second night of Hanukka, resigned to my fate. That is, until I saw some magic words printed on that calendar date.
“We can’t do it on Thursday night,” I declared.
“Why not?” she asked.
“It’s Thanksgiving!” I exclaimed, pointing delightedly at the calendar.
My wife laughed.
“Thanksgiving?” she shook her head in disbelief. “We haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving in the two decades since we made aliya from the US. And every time one of our American friends living in Israel invites us over for Thanksgiving dinner, you say we’re not going. You say that we live in Israel now, and we don’t celebrate those American holidays anymore. Then you go on and on about how you also don’t want me to make a Thanksgiving dinner here at our home, and how you don’t even want me to serve turkey on the day after Thanksgiving at our Friday night Shabbat meal. Now, all of a sudden, you’ve changed your mind?!” She had a point. I could either stand by my past statements, thereby risking having the whole mishpocha over on Thursday night, or I could change course and try to wiggle out of it. I chose the latter.
“What are you talking about?” I said, feigning ignorance. “Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, and I love turkey – and it’s good, too! Don’t we Jews always say, ‘Hodu l’Hashem ki tov!’ You know, ‘hodu’ as in ‘giving thanks’ and also ‘hodu’ as in ‘tarnegol hodu,’ which is turkey.”
“I get the joke,” my wife said, arms folded and not smiling, “I just don’t think it’s very funny.”
“What’s wrong with Thanksgiving?” I asked rhetorically. “We Jews are always supposed to be thankful. In fact, every day when we wake up, the first prayer we say is ‘Modeh Ani,’ or thank you.”
“Okay, but – ” “There’s more,” I continued. “Take the word ‘Jew,’ for example, which comes from the word ‘judah,’ to be ‘thankful.’” “I know, I know,” she said as she began quoting from Genesis 29:35, which describes how a fourth son was born to Leah: “ … she said, ‘This time will I thank the Lord.’ Therefore, she called his name Judah.”
“Exactly!” I smiled, thinking that would satisfy my scholarly wife.
“Okay, but why the sudden change?” she asked. “To borrow from another Jewish holiday: ‘Why is this night – this year – different from all other nights?’” She had me there. I was running out of excuses for celebrating Thanksgiving. I racked my brain and suddenly remembered something I’d read online.
“I’ll tell you why this year is different from all other years. It’s ‘Thanksgivukkah!’” “What?” she waved her hand in dismissal. “You just made up that word.”
“No, honest,” I said, looking her straight in the eye. “I read about it on the Internet. November 28 marks Thanksgiving Day this year, as well as the first day of Hanukka. Do you know how rare that is?” My wife shook her head.
“It’s so rare, in fact, that it’s never happened before and won’t happen again in our lifetimes. Hanukka did fall on the last Thursday in November in 1861. But Thanksgiving didn’t yet exist as a national holiday – US president Abraham Lincoln only declared it such in 1863. As the Jewish calendar drifts forward, eventually the earliest that Hanukka will fall is November 29, and that will be after Thanksgiving Day.”
“Fascinating,” my wife said sarcastically.
“It is fascinating!” I insisted. “The word ‘Thanksgivukkah’ has now been officially trademarked. You can even buy T-shirts that say ‘Happy Thanksgivukkah!’ and everything.”
She was not impressed and failed to hold back a yawn.
“And,” I continued, “there’s some nine-year-old kid in New York who has created and marketed what he calls the Menurkey – a menorah in the shape of a turkey.”
“So you want us to light a Menurkey?” she asked.
“No, we can light our regular hanukkia. I’m just giving an example.
Some people are making a whole Thanksgivukkah menu, like serving sweet potato latkes. I’m not saying we should go overboard, but we should appreciate the significance behind the once-in-a-lifetime overlap of two holidays that both celebrate religious freedom, of the Maccabees and the Pilgrims, and have similar themes.
Also, religiously, there is a direct line connecting Thanksgiving, Succot and Hanukka.”
“Oh, do tell,” she sat down in a chair, ready for my lecture.
“Very well,” I continued. “American Thanksgiving has a close affinity to the biblical holiday of Succot. Both holidays included the theme of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. It’s likely that the Pilgrims, who linked their migration and experience in the New World with the ancient Israelites, learned to thank God for their harvest from the stories they read in what they called the Old Testament.”
“Okay,” she nodded.
“And Succot, in turn, was very much linked to Hanukka. In fact, Hanukka may have actually been Succot. The Second Book of Maccabees records that after the Maccabees cleansed and rededicated the Temple, the sanctuary was purified on 25 Kislev (Hanukka).
The joyful celebration lasted for eight days. It was like Succot, for they recalled how only a short time before, they hadn’t been able to observe Succot in the Temple but were forced to observe the festival while living like animals in the mountains. So they observed the joyful celebration, which lasted for eight days. And so they carried lulavim and etrogim and chanted hymns to God, who had so triumphantly led them to the purification of the Temple.”
“So, you are connecting Succot and Hanukka?” “Yes. So Hanukka was probably a delayed Succot, with its theme of Thanksgiving spilling over from the harvest into the cleansed and rededicated Temple. The overlap of American Thanksgiving with the Succot/Hanukka Thanksgiving, then, is not a calendrical oddity but a calendrical tour de force! Thanksgiving, Succot and Hanukka all share a theme of giving thanks: in the first two, for the harvest; in the last, for the rededication of the Temple.”
“Okay, enough!” she said, raising her hand in the air. “Are you serious about all this ‘Thanksgivukkah’ business?” “Of course,” I answered.
“Okay,” she said. “I get it. As you said, there’s nothing wrong with being thankful. After all, on Hanukka we express thanks for the miraculous victory in the war and for the miraculous jar of oil that lasted eight days. Hanukka is also a holiday of thanksgiving.”
I smiled. I was winning her over.
“I also don’t mind making a turkey with the stuffing and the cranberries and the pumpkin and all that stuff – along with my famous latkes,” she said. “And we’ll serve all that right after the Hanukka candle lighting – but we still have to invite my relatives for it.”
My heart sank. A good plan had been foiled.
“I’ll tell you what,” she said, sensing my disappointment, “I’ll let you go watch the Thanksgiving Day American football games on TV on Thanksgivukkah, after our big family get-together and dinner.”
I smiled. That was one Thanksgiving tradition (along with watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade when I was a kid) I had always enjoyed.
“But,” she warned, “don’t go loosening your belt in front of the TV while sitting on the couch watching those games after dinner – nobody wants to see that.”
I frowned. She was hitting below the belt – literally! “But it’s a Thanksgiving tradition,” I protested.
“All right,” she caved in, “but only this once, because it’s Thanksgivukkah.”
I went over and kissed her on the cheek.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’ll make you a deal. The next time Thanksgiving and Hanukka overlap, we can have your entire family over again.”
“Really?” she asked suspiciously.
“So just when is the next ‘Thanksgivukkah’?” “I can tell you exactly,” I winked.
“The first night of Hanukka and Thanksgiving dinner fall on the same night real soon – in the year 2070.”The writer has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University.