Editor’s note: This article is by Amanda Kuhnert, a contributor to the Stowe Reporter, in which it was first published Nov. 27, 2013.
While many Americans make final preparations for their Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, many Jewish-Americans are also getting ready for the first day of Hanukkah. This unusual overlap of the two holidays is known as “Thanksgivukkah.”
Dana Gitell, a marketing specialist in Massachusetts, coined the name on a morning drive to work in November 2012. Combining the names of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, this creative portmanteau captures a rare convergence of the two holidays that won’t happen again for another 70,000 years, some experts say.
Thanksgivukkah is a “super holiday” created by the overlap of Thanksgiving Day with the first full day of the eight-day Hanukkah, which is set by the Jewish calendar. The two holidays last overlapped in 1888, according to an article in the Boston Globe. But tomorrow will be the first Thanksgivukkah in recent history, and the last one until the year 79,811, said Jewish physicist and calendar expert Jonathan Mizrahi.
In an interview with ThanksgivukkahBoston.com, Mizrahi explained that “the Jewish calendar is mathematical in nature; it’s not determined by a person. It is designed so that the months line up with the lunar cycle, while the years stay synced with the solar cycle.”
“The calendar is drifting forward with respect to the solar cycle at a rate of four days every 1,000 years,” he said. “Right now, the earliest that the first day of Hanukkah can fall is Nov. 28. Coincidentally, this is also the latest that Thanksgiving can fall.”
Other mathematicians argue that the phenomenon will never happen again. Regardless, everyone agrees on one thing: Thanksgivukkah is an extremely rare and significant event in our lifetimes.
Some people are going all out for Thanksgivukkah with Menurkeys — turkey-shaped menorahs, and modified traditional Thanksgiving dishes, like turkey brined in Manischewitz and stuffed with Challah bread, pumpkin kugel, and pecan pie rugelach. Others are less enthusiastic, turned off by “all the commercial hype.” And you can’t argue with that.
Thanksgivukkah is big business. People are selling T-shirts, table décor, dreidels, jewelry and more in honor of the super holiday.
But regardless of how people choose to celebrate Thanksgivukkah, this unique historical event offers Jewish Americans an opportunity for introspection and reflection, said David Fainsilber, religious leader at the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe.
“The thinker behind Reconstructionist Judaism, Mordechai Kaplan, was the first to introduce a Thanksgiving service into his siddur/prayer book,” Fainsilber said. “One of his main contributions to Jewish thought is the concept that, as Jews in America, we live in two civilizations: American and Jewish. Today, as American Jews (or Jewish Americans) this concept is now taken for granted in many ways.
“Yet still, with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah falling on the same day, this super holiday makes one stop and think: What American values inform my Judaism? What Jewish values inform my Americanism? Where do the two meet and where do they depart? These types of questions can relate to people of other faiths or no faith as they consider which overlapping communities they live in and what values of these ‘civilizations’ intersect and what values diverge.”
Some Jewish Americans have decided to embrace Thanksgivukkah as an opportunity to make the traditional Thanksgiving values of “giving” and “gratitude” a more significant part of the celebration of Hanukkah. Ideas that have been floating around the Internet include: designating one night during Hanukkah to give a gift to someone in need, choosing a local nonprofit or food drive to support, or simply dedicating time every day for giving thanks.
Whether or not Jewish-Americans decide to embrace the Thanksgivukkah theme or stick with their traditional Thanksgiving and Hanukkah plans, the convergence of these two significant holidays likely will be experienced at some level in every Jewish-American home this year.
“Hanukkah as the holiday of ‘miracles’ can help us reframe our gathering together with family and friends at this secular season as an incredible miracle that requires much gratitude,” Fainsilber said. “Thank God for this miracle of life and family, gathering, friends and gratitude.”