The convergence happens only once in a lifetime: Thanksgiving falling on the first day of Hanukkah.
It’s Thanksgivukkah — and it is not expected to occur again for more than 70,000 years.
The unusual confluence of the holidays on Thursday is causing a celebratory sensation in South Florida and around the country, as revelers dream up recipes for sweet potato latkes and challah stuffing, and imagine feasting on Thanksgiving fare while children spin dreidels and open Hanukkah gifts.
Comedian Adam Sandler has added a special verse to his Hanukkah song. Boston rabbi David Pashkin has coined a Thanksgivukkah ballad melding the two holidays, which has gone viral on YouTube, as have other Thanksgivukkah performances.
A 9-year-old even invented a special menorah — the traditional candelabrum that Jews use to kindle lights on the eight nights of Hanukkah. On a drive home to New York from Boca Raton in January, Asher Weintraub, who’s now 10, came up with the idea for a “menurkey” — a menorah shaped like a turkey, especially for the celebration. After raising funds on Kickstarter, more than 5,000 “menurkeys” have been sold so far, said his father, Anthony Weintraub.
Many Jewish families in South Florida are combining holiday festivities, devising hybrid menus and celebrating the fact that their out-of-town children will be here this year to enjoy both commemorations.
“It’s one of those strange confluences of calendars that happens to bring together Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, a holiday which celebrates religious freedom from a Jewish standpoint, and Thanksgiving celebrates freedom from an American standpoint,” said Rabbi Gary A. Glickstein of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, who wrote about the convergence in his monthly newsletter, saying the exact rarity will not occur again until the year 79811.
“They are both family occasions, occasions that have food associated with them,” the rabbi said. “It’s a chance to be creative and add a wrinkle to both holidays.”
Lisi Wolfson usually has a family Hanukkah celebration at her house in Miami Beach and enjoys Thanksgiving at her parents’ Hollywood home. But this year, they will combine the two.
“We are having one big party for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah together — Thanksgivukkah,” said Wolfson, 37, who is married and has four daughters. “We’ll light the menorah, which we would do normally, and have the usual Thanksgiving feast. So we’ll be able to celebrate both together, as one big family party.”
Others, like Meri-Jane Rochelson, want to separate the festivities, relishing the added advantage of having her 26-year old daughter, 30-year-old son, his wife and two children, in town for both.
They will have Thanksgiving on Thursday, then will get together with family and friends on Saturday night to celebrate Hanukkah.
“At first it just seemed too early for Hanukkah, but when I started to think about it in practical terms, it works out very well,” said Rochelson, a professor and associate chair of English at Florida International University, who lives in Northeast Miami-Dade.
“My feeling is you have these two really nice holidays. Don’t combine them, don’t turn them into a conglomerate, enjoy them both,” she said. “But I do enjoy them being together because our families will be together for both.”
Indeed, the holidays almost never converge exactly as they will this year, because of two factors: the use of two different calendars — the Jewish or Hebrew calendar, and the Gregorian calendar — and the fact that Thanksgiving falls on a different date each year.
In 1863, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. Then President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress fixing it as the fourth Thursday of November, starting in 1942.
Thanksgiving and the first full day of Hanukkah haven’t overlapped since 1888.
So Jewish families are going all out.
Miami mortgage broker Grant Stern, 36, will make his grandmother’s recipe for latkes but will substitute sweet potatoes for the traditional potatoes. And he’ll swap cranberry sauce for apple sauce.
Similarly, Gloria Pariser will make sweet potato latkes and jelly donuts with cranberry filling, for an extended family celebration of 20 people, including children, their in-laws, and grandchildren.
“We are Orthodox Jews. To me the only holiday that we can celebrate in this country that is not a Jewish holiday is Thanksgiving, and I always made Thanksgiving. I always had a big Thanksgiving dinner,” said Pariser, 69, who, along with her husband Bert, split their year between South Beach and Long Beach, N.Y. “This year, because it comes out at Hanukkah time, I am elaborating a little more.”
Rabbis say the holidays actually share much in common, both commemorating times of survival, joy, celebration and gratitude. Hanukkah, which falls on the 25th day of Kislev, commemorates the Macabees’ defeat of the much-larger Greek-Syrian army that had invaded Israel, as well as the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. As the Jews purified the Holy Temple, they found only one flask of the oil for the eternal lamp — enough to keep it burning for just one day. But in what is described as a miracle, the oil lasted eight days and nights, which is why Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights.
“It gives all of us the time to pause and be thankful for the wonderful blessings,” said Senior Rabbi Howard Needleman of Temple Kol Ami Emanu-el in Plantation.
“The wonderful nature of Thanksgiving is of all the holidays we have as Americans, this is the only one that is not associated with a war, and that all Americans can feel part of, regardless of their faith or lack thereof,” he said. “And for that reason it holds the most special place in our hearts. As a member of the American Jewish community, we have so much to be thankful for. This is such a wonderful home for us as a people.”
Eric Moss, a retired school teacher, has been busy thinking up ways to combine the holidays, like decorating his Miami Shores home with both Hanukkah blue-and-white décor and Thanksgiving cornucopia.
He had to rush out early to stock up on Hanukkah gifts for his 11-year-old daughter Emily. This year Hanukkah begins even before Black Friday, the traditionally huge holiday shopping day.
He says he may wrap the gifts while playing Autumn Leaves.
“We never give gifts on Thanksgiving,” said Moss, 60. “But we will this year.”