Thanksgiving falls on the second night of Hanukkah this year. Some calculate this as first convergence in a thousand years; others are more modest about the rarity of the overlap. (Chabad offers a thorough accounting here).
This intersection of lunar and solar calendars and of religious and national histories sends some American Jews (ok, me) into a shopping and cooking frenzy, compressing a stretch of holiday festivity into the upcoming week. We bake pumpkin pie while shredding potatoes for latkes, we pack for a drive to grandma's but must not forget menorahs and dreidles. To help with the challenge, stores are offering a "menurkey" - a turkey shaped Hanukkah menorah.
I bemoaned this "early onset Hanukkah" to my friend Nina (although one Rabbi once pointed out that Jewish holidays are never "early" or "late" - they simply fall at the appropriate time on the Jewish calendar). How could I get it all done? Oy, the demands. Should the table be set in blue and white linens or with multicolored maize husks and burgundy mums? How to buy Hanukah gifts before Christmas windows are decorated? When the hours of December sunlight decline and friends trim trees, we will have no more packages to open. Yep, I was on the side of "hate it."
My friend Nina, on the other hand, embraced the mixed-holiday opportunity with exuberance and creative élan. How, I asked her with shock, could she love it?
Since this is a question of the appeal of the double holiday of "Thanksgivukkah" it seems fitting to offer a doubly-voiced post. So I present Nina Greenberg on what is to love about "Thankukah" (See? Is it "Thanksgivukkah" or "Thanukah"? We don't even know what to call it):
* * *
The soundtrack of an ordinary Thanksgiving has to be classic rock. But "Thanukah"? Old school hip hop all the way, baby.
Here's our best chance to sample the traditions we love, set aside those we don't, lace them together with a steady beat, and amp up the energy.
Don't get me wrong; I so enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving. Family and friends coming together, the smell of a bird slathered in butter and herbs roasting (even though I'm a pescatarian), the puzzle of where to put everyone, crammed into a small apartment that feels somehow bigger with all those good people in one place: all good.
But this Filipina-Jewish-American woman is in love with Thankukah. It's my (dorky girl) Gangsta's Paradise. It's my Straight Outta Compton. It's my Bring The Noise (Public Enemy and Anthrax version, of course).
At first, I think I was just thrilled at the word nerd possibilities. All the struggles to pull together two 3-syllable words were awkward at first, "Thanksgivukah," "Thankskahanukah," "Hanukahgiving." (Shudder.) But then my niece and I landed on Thanukah, emphasis on the THAN, and .... YO YO YO, it's THANukah.
It's got a lot to recommend it.
For my friends and colleagues, this has led to an all-out, laughter filled, boasting and toasting creative competition of sorts.
My friend Barb got right on the Thanukah gelt deficiency, and--after striking out at all the great chocolatiers in Manhattan--found a way to special order menurkies, "5774" and "2013" pressed into gold chocolate coins. My niece made invitations, tricking out the orange embossed turkey with a tiny, chunky gold chain. Now a gold paper star of David swings from his formerly staid little neck. How-tos abound on pinterest, sharing (ok, bragging about) how to make a dreidel place card, sweet potato latkes, appropriate nail art and turkey doughnuts (I know). My friend Josh even got inspired to bake what he's calling an "apple הי," his delicious pie, this year with an open lattice crust in the shape of a Jewish star. (Search YouTube this weekend for instructions.)
Come to my house and you'll be treated to my mother-in-law's traditional latkes with my dad's newest invention, cranberry applesauce. You'll have a little wrapped gift instead of a place card, and the gift card will let you know exactly why we're thankful for you. The stuffing will have challah instead of cornbread this year, and the fall colored sugar cookies will be in the shape of Jewish stars. (That's all I can tell you. I have to keep some surprises for the family.)
No matter who I talk to, Jew or non-Jew, Thanksgiving neophyte or expert, the mere mention of this funky hip-hop holiday ramps up the laughter, the creative one-upmanship, the exuberant over-the-top joy. What's not to love, Judith?
* * *
Clearly Nina's "Thanukah" table will be more fun than my own. (Man, I hate when she's right.) As is often the case when we combine two opinions or two texts, each helps us perceive fresh aspects of the other. Why not enjoy our individual takes on this unique holiday? Nina's words let me hear my own again.
The possibility to approach the holidays so differently leads me to how "Thanukkah/Thanksgivukkah" can allow us to re-hear aspects of each holiday. On Thanksgiving, Americans recognize plentitude. We celebrate the settlers sitting down and sharing food with Native Americans. Then, the next day, we rush off to feel more full at Black Friday sales. But beneath the story of abundance and of friendship, there's also a counter-narrative of lost land, language and customs. As the settlers and the Native Americans paused in fighting to eat, perhaps lighting a Hanukkah candle enables us to pause as well and to reflect upon gratitude. Before grabbing more stuff (on sale!), what about devoting attention to the plight of the side of the table that didn't win the battle?
The double holiday may lend complexity to the brave warrior narrative of Hanukkah as well. For eight nights, Jews mark the miracle of light that lasted beyond its time, the strength of an embattled people who fought a powerful army and retained their faith. But perhaps we can consider the power of darkness if we refuse to sit at a table with another side to talk and listen.
Interweaving two holidays helps us examine what it means to come together. How does a national story converge with a minority's perseverance? How do we unite while not disappearing into a single narrative of the dominant? And - thank you, Nina - how do we enjoy our multicultural convergences while listening to the stories of others? Perhaps we can discuss ethical questions at a festive table set with presents as place cards, latkes with cranberry applesauce, and challah-filled stuffing. It's good to listen to your friends - even if they don't agree with you. It can make a meal (or a post) a lot more interesting - and fun. Thanks for giving, Nina.