Calendar makes new holiday: Thanksgivukkah


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November 26, 2013

It’s time to carve the turkey. . . and light the menorah. It’s Thanksgivukkah!

An extremely rare convergence this year of Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah has created a holiday frenzy.

Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights, celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago. It lasts eight days because a small amount of oil that was used to light the temple’s menorah, or candleholder, lasted for eight days. The festival doesn’t begin on the same day each year, and in 2013 Hanukkah starts extremely early.

The last time the holiday started on Thanksgiving was 1888, and the next time, Jews may be lighting their candles from spaceships.

The event has inspired merchandise. Asher Weintraub, a 9-year-old from New York, invented the “Menurkey” and raised more than $48,000 on Kickstarter to produce and sell his turkey-shaped menorah.

Songs have popped up with lyrics such as these from “The Ballad of Thanksgivukkah”: “Imagine Judah Maccabee, sitting down to roast turkey and passing the potatoes to Squanto . . .” Rabbi David Paskin, the song’s co-writer and co-head of the Kehillah Schechter Academy in Norwood, Massachusetts, proudly declares his Jewish day school to be the one nearest Plymouth Rock. (The first Thanksgiving is said to have been celebrated in Plymouth.)

Let’s not forget the food mash-ups commemorating the staying power of the Pilgrims and the fighting prowess of the Jews, along with the miracle of the oil. Pumpkin latkes and deep-fried turkey, anyone?

“It’s pretty amazing to me that in this country we can have rich [nonreligious] and rich religious celebrations and that those of us who live in both worlds can find moments when they meet and can really celebrate that convergence. There are a lot of places in the world where we would not be able to do that,” Paskin said.

The lunisolar nature of the Jewish calendar — “lunisolar” means involving the cycles of both the sun and the moon — makes Hanukkah and some other religious observances appear to drift slightly from year to year. But much of the curiosity about Hanukkah this year is connected to the history of Thanksgiving, which hasn’t always been fixed in the same spot.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November (the month sometimes has five of those), and the holiday remained there until President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress fixing it as the fourth Thursday, starting in 1942.

Jewish practice calls for the first candle of the Hanukkah celebration to be lit the night before Thanksgiving this year, so technically “Thanksgivukkah” falls on the “second candle” night.

While the whole thing is lots of fun, is there anything truly cosmic happening here?

Dana Gitell, who lives outside Boston, partnered with an artist and a Jewish gift site to sell souvenir T-shirts, cards and a poster. She sees a happy and meaningful coincidence.

“Cosmic? It’s just a day when Jews and the rest of America are celebrating on the same day,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for us to really celebrate the Jewish American experience, and to give thanks in America for the religious freedom we enjoy here, and for making the Jewish American experience possible.”

Associated Press

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