By Nara Schoenberg, Tribune Newspapers
November 10, 2013
It's a once-in-a-lifetime event that brings together two holidays, one sacred and one secular; two culinary traditions, both with a signature potato dish; and two guest lists, each with an unimpeachable claim to space at your dining room table.
What could possibly go wrong?
As the historic overlap of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah hurtles toward us for the first time since 1888, complete with turkey menorahs (menurkeys), commemorative T-shirts ("8 Days of Light, Liberty and Latkes") and sweet potato latke recipes, the experts assure us we have nothing to fear.
"It's Michael Jordan with a layup. It couldn't be simpler — it couldn't be more beautiful to put these two (holidays) together," says Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in New York, who notes that both are joyful, intimate celebrations of religious freedom.
"And what better message about religious freedom than to have people of different faiths sitting around the table?"
Still, there are potential pitfalls, among them that in the rush to celebrate what friends, fans and marketers are calling Thanksgivukkah, key dishes from either of the two component celebrations will be omitted, to the bitter disappointment of some guests. Experts also caution that non-Jewish guests bearing side dishes may be stymied by Jewish dietary restrictions, and that guests and hosts of different faiths may need to communicate ahead of time.
Both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are beloved holidays, so don't omit a key component such as sweet potato casserole in favor of potato latkes — consider serving both and, for that matter, don't hesitate to add a third, maybe a cheeky hybrid such as sweet potato latkes, says Tina Wasserman, author of the upcoming book "Entree to Judaism for Families: Jewish Cooking and Kitchen Conversations With Children" (URJ Press, to hit bookstores Nov. 15).
The general principle, Wasserman says: "Add, don't subtract."
"They are both holidays that bring families together, and the table is so representative of family history and dynamics," she says. "What is put on the table brings back the memory of parents, of great-grandparents."
If you're Jewish and you plan to invite guests who are not familiar with Hanukkah, make sure to tell them that Thanksgiving is going to be different this year, says Rebecca Cynamon-Murphy, who wrote about Thanksgivukkah at InterfaithFamily.com.
"We're so excited we're going to experience this," she might say. "Here's how we'd like to celebrate it. Is that something you'd be comfortable with?"
Guests should feel free to ask what to expect — generally a simple ceremony that includes candle-lighting and brief blessings in Hebrew. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in the second century B.C., after Jews revolted against their intolerant Seleucid rulers. The candles of the Hanukkah menorah represent the miracle of a one-day supply of holy oil that is said to have burned for eight days.
If you're planning on bringing a side dish to Thanksgivukkah, know that many American Jews — even the most secular — observe some Jewish dietary laws on the holidays out of tradition and/or respect. That means that they may not be eating pork, shellfish or combinations of dairy and meat. Cynamon-Murphy suggests asking what you can bring ahead of time.
As a Jewish guest attending a non-Jewish Thanksgiving, the responsibility for initiating any Hanukkah celebration falls on you, Jacobs says. Ask your host if it would be OK to bring a menorah or two and maybe Hanukkah game supplies for the kids.
Non-Jewish Thanksgivukkah hosts with Jewish guests can nod to the occasion with the table setting, says Susan Spungen, author of "What's a Hostess to Do?" (Artisan). She suggests a small bag of chocolate Hanukkah gelt (coins) at each plate.
Spungen, whose family celebrates a low-key, child-oriented Hanukkah, says she would keep the candle-lighting simple, either before or after dinner, and wouldn't feel the need to inform non-Jewish guests ahead of time.
As for Hanukkah gift-giving, she suggests restraint, particularly if you have guests who won't be actively participating.
"Hanukkah is eight nights," Spungen observes. "And Thanksgiving is only one."
Doing the math
Confronted with the overlap of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah, Albuquerque, N.M., physicist Jonathan Mizrahi wondered how often that happens. His guess was every couple of hundred years, but when he ran a simple computer program he got just one date: Nov. 28, 2013.
The explanation, he says, is that while the earliest the first day of Hanukkah can currently fall is Nov. 28, the Jewish calendar is slowly drifting forward relative to the Western one, pushing the first day of Hanukkah to Nov. 29 at the earliest, and eliminating potential overlap with Thanksgiving.
Mizrahi, who posted his key results at jonathanmizrahi.blogspot.com, says Thanksgivukkah happened once before, in 1888, when Thanksgiving was still the last Thursday in November. And barring adjustments to the Jewish calendar, it will not occur again until 79811.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC