National Edition

Thanksgivukkah shines light on modern Jewish culture

Published: Sunday, Oct. 27 2013 4:00 a.m. MDT

This year, many American Jews will be celebrating Thanksgivukkah a super holiday created by the overlap of the first full day of the eight-day Hanukkah, which begins this year on the evening of Nov. 27. By the time the turkey is carved and the pie is eaten, many American Jewish families will be lighting the menorah (or, in some cases, the menurkey), a ritual that pays tribute to the ancient story of Hanukkah, when the oil to light the holy temple's menorah lasted not just one day but for eight.

Larry Crowe, Associated Press

Every year, Abby Knuckey hangs a sheet of paper on her fridge.

She leaves it there for a day or two and inspects it every so often during her trips to the pantry. By the time she takes it off the fridge, the paper's bare white space is filled with written words revealing her children’s winter holiday wishes.

Knuckey calls it her "Hanukkah List," and it's given to her kids to fill out ahead of the Jewish holiday. But this year, instead of reading the sheet in December when cards, cups and decorations of blue usually flood department stores everywhere, the Jewish calendar shows the holiday falling in November, around Thanksgiving time, instead of around Christmas. This is the first time the Jewish calendar has overlapped with the Western calendar in 125 years.

Knuckey is an American Jew celebrating Thanksgivukkah — a super holiday created by the overlap of the first full day of the eight-day Hanukkah, which begins this year on the evening of Nov. 27. By the time the turkey is carved and the pie is eaten, many American Jewish families will be lighting the menorah (or, in some cases, the menurkey), a ritual that pays tribute to the ancient story of Hanukkah, when the oil to light the Holy Temple's menorah lasted not just one day but for eight.

While the religious holiday, which is set by the Jewish calendar, typically falls around Christmas, this year's Thanksgivukkah is raising questions for some Jews around identity. With a recent Pew Research Center study showing that 22 percent of American Jews don’t consider themselves religious, Hanukkah’s early arrival this year is causing many American Jews to wonder how Jewish (in a religious sense) they really are and how they’re going to handle the crossover holiday.

Will they just celebrate Thanksgiving, or will they hold Hannukkah as part of the holiday as well?

‘Not a big deal’

Knuckey doesn’t see anything special about the traditional celebration of Hanukkah.

“Hanukkah’s not a big deal,” she said.

That’s the feeling among many American Jewish families, said Shevy Baskin, editorial assistant for My Jewish World, a Jewish information website.

Around the world, and historically, Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday and it's only American culture that glamorizes it, Baskin said. Most American Jews won't be concerned with Thanksgivukkah because Hanukkah has sometimes drifted into January, Baskin said, and because of its religious insignificance compared to other Jewish holidays such as Yom Kippur, a day of atonement or Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year celebration.

In a survey conducted by Ellen Zimmerman from Jewish Holidays in a Box, a grass-roots Jewish holiday product company, 20 percent of respondents said that melding Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will dilute the religious significance of the Jewish holy day.

Zimmerman said one mother raised concern about December turning into an entire month of Christmas, without Hanukkah around to “soften the blow” for Jewish children. This leaves little reason to celebrate, she said.

Without their own holiday to celebrate, by the time the bright Christmas lights start flashing, Zimmerman said, some Jewish families might be left in the dark.

Mixing the holidays

But others, like Knuckey, will be flipping the switch and embracing the super holiday.

In years when Hanukkah falls in December, Knuckey sometimes doesn’t celebrate the religious day until January. Her family is always busy coordinating work schedules and after-school activities. By the time everyone’s finally free, it’s mid-January, well after the traditional holiday season.

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