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.
Her family’s Hanukkah usually consists of cuddling up, chowing on Chinese food and watching a movie. Once night falls, the kids are ripping open their gifts.
Now they'll be mixing that with Thanksgiving dinner.
“It’ll kill two birds with one stone," she said.
Hanukkah is shifting away from its Christmas ties and opening up the door for more Jewish families to partake in the festivities, Baskin said, adding that Thanksgivukkah will help “decouple-ize” Christmas and Hanukkah.
“You don’t have to do this whitewashing thing like Americans will do with Christmas and Hanukkah being about giving and lights and all of these generic terms,” Baskin said.
Knuckey's fine with Hanukkah's decoupling from Christmas this year. Her husband is Christian, and her immediate family exchanges gifts under the willowing verdant branches of a Christmas tree anyway. Knuckey said Thanksgivukkah will make December easier. The chaos to find Hanukkah and Christmas gifts will subside, she said.
Zimmerman said some are thrilled with Thanksgivukkah because it’s going to bring families together. Others, she said, are excited about mixing latkes and cranberry sauce or blending dishes together.
Knuckey and her family hail from the American Jewish hub of New Jersey, where 6 percent of the population identifies as Jewish, according to the Pew Research Center. And they plan on mixing the two holidays together.
But even across the country in the Midwest, Jewish families are gearing up for Thanksgivukkah. Jane and Harvey Baker, from Missouri, where only 1 percent identify as Jewish, are looking forward to the super holiday. Harvey Baker praised Thanksgivukkah because it’ll be a breath of fresh air for their Hanukkah celebrations.
"In all other years, some come to our Thanksgiving dinner and some come to our Hanukkah celebrations," said Harvey Baker, an American Jew from St. Louis. "It will be great to combine the holidays and the people who are part of each separate holiday."
Jane Baker said she’s going to make yam potato latkes and apple turkey. Her family will be mixing games — they’ll spin the dreidel and build pilgrim hats, both traditions they do each year for the two holidays — before lighting the menorah.
Thanksgivukkah is restoring some identity to the Jewish holiday. Though it is not a major holiday on the Jewish calendar, it's often been associated with Christmas and the winter holiday season, said Baskin, the editorial assistant.
Now, being that the eight-day stretch ends in the beginning of December according to the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah will find its own footing and be a unique holiday that American Jews can celebrate, Baskin said.Comment on this story
Zimmerman said Thanksgivukkah may make December a little more difficult for some families, but the restoration of family time and faith is ever present.
And for others like Knuckey, things will be easier. Unlike years past, Knuckey can easily bring her family together and enjoy the celebrations on time.
She won't be late to the holiday this year.
She'll be precisely on time.
“It’s really nice to get the family together and celebrate happy occasions,” Knuckey said. “It’s a happy day.”