It won’t happen again in their lifetimes, so Jewish families in Wichita will make the most of their chance to grab a turkey leg and watch some football on Thursday, then light the menorah and eat some latkes at night.
Thursday is “Thanksgivukkah,” the name some people have coined for the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, an overlap caused by a freak alignment of the Jewish and secular calendars. The event is so rare that by some estimates it won’t happen again for nearly 80,000 years.
Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, began Wednesday evening, so Thursday night is the second night of candle-lighting, which, for many Jewish Americans, will happen this time after they eat a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Carol Feiertag, a Wichita artist, said it is fun to combine the holidays. Family members who might not normally come for Hanukkah are joining her and her husband, David, for Thanksgiving. And the convergence of festivities is a chance to be creative and combine foods that are traditional to both holidays.
Feiertag said she is having latkes – traditional Hanukkah potato pancakes – with cranberries and applesauce rather than the usual sour cream and applesauce. And they are having a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but she is using maneschewitz, a sweet kosher wine, to brine the turkey. She also made a new menorah using fall colors rather than the usual blue and white.
“Thanksgiving is so American, and to mix the holidays for American Jews is very exciting,” Feiertag said.
The mash-up doesn’t detract from Hanukkah, she said.
“I think it actually adds to it a little bit. Thanksgiving is such a big time for my family anyway, and Hanukkah on top of it adds to the fun,” she said. “And you get to draw it out a little longer.”
The two holidays almost belong together. Both celebrate religious freedom. Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration of the victory of the Maccabees in the 2nd century BCE over the army of a Syrian king who had profaned the Temple and outlawed Judaism. Thanksgiving has its origins in celebrations by the Pilgrims in the 1600s for the bounties of the new land they found after seeking freedom from religious persecution.
“Thanksgiving has always been a holiday everyone can get behind regardless of their religious beliefs because it’s an American tradition,” said Rabbi Michael Davis of Congregation Emanu-El in Wichita. “Hanukkah is a festival that celebrates freedom and standing up for your beliefs. These are two ideas that are very American. So a convergence of these two holidays seems to fit.”
Both holidays are about getting together with family to give thanks for life’s blessings.
Wendi Dozier, an assistant principal with the Wichita school district, said she and her family, including husband Mike and two children ages 12 and 9, will celebrate Thanksgiving with in-laws during the day and then celebrate Hanukah at her mother’s nursing home, joining her brother and his family.
“We’ll bring dreidels and menorahs, and bring frying pans to make potato pancakes, so we’ll have some traditional food with her,” Dozier said.
“We’re going to do both on the same day.”
Sveta Yakubovich came to Wichita 20 years ago from Russia. She and her husband, Simon, have grown to love Thanksgiving because it is about family, she said. They plan to have some Jewish friends over to enjoy a typical turkey meal as well as some Hanukkah dishes. And tonight they will light the menorah candle and give presents to the children of some of the their friends.
“We’re kind of taking the best of both worlds,” Yakubovich sad. “It’s exciting, something different.”
“I think it’s great that for once it’s not next to Christmas, because Hanukkah and Christmas are two different things,” she said. “This gives us a chance to explain to people what Hanukkah’s all about.”
Mark Meyers, a Wichita attorney, and his wife, Amanda, planned to celebrate Hanukkah on Wednesday night with their family. That included lighting the menorah candles, making latkes, singing songs and giving presents to their two sons, ages 5 and 7.
Thursday will be spent celebrating a typical Thanksgiving with a small family gathering, followed by a get-together with a larger group of Jewish friends, then another menorah lighting back home, Mark Meyers said.
The combination of events offers an opportunity to educate their sons about religious holidays. Mark is Jewish and Amanda is Christian, and they are raising their boys Jewish, he said.
“We’ve had plenty of conversations with them about Judaism and Christianity, but I’m not sure my kids have solid grasp on what is a Jewish holiday, what is a Christian holiday, what is a secular holiday,” Meyers said. “Events like this help me impart for them why everybody in America, or most people, are celebrating Thanksgiving and what Thanksgiving means and why Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving this year.”