When turkey met latke: Thanksgivukkah is a once-in-a-lifetime celebration

Convergence of Hanukkah, Thanksgiving won't happen for another 77,000 years

November 16, 2013|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

Brace yourself for the epic convergence of two holidays — a celebration of rich dishes, piles of sweets and family togetherness the likes of which have never before been seen and won't be repeated for more than 77,000 years.

Thanksgivukkah is coming.

Latkes with cranberry sauce. Turkey-shaped menorahs. Cornucopias stuffed with dreidels.

Thanks to quirks of the Jewish and Gregorian calendars, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will coincide this month for the first time since 1888, back when celebrations of both holidays were more muted. The next time the holidays will match up is the year 79,811.

Why the long gap?

"Nobody understands it," said Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation. The short answer, according to Wohlberg, is that Nov. 28 is the earliest possible date for Hanukkah and the latest possible for Thanksgiving.

Add to that the complexities of the Jewish lunar calendar: It repeats on a 19-year-cycle, has occasional leap months and grows out of sync with the Gregorian calendar by four days every millennium. Soon you realize why no one understands, Wohlberg said. And anyway, why worry about calendars when there is so much fun to be had?

Although Hanukkah is sometimes seen as being the Jewish equivalent of Christmas, the holiday's underlying themes have more in common with Thanksgiving, Wohlberg explained.

"The concept of Hanukkah is a concept of thanksgiving," he said. "Hanukkah marks the first victory over religious persecution. On Thanksgiving, we're celebrating living in a country that has allowed us to have that freedom."

And, Wohlberg added, there is nothing that prevents observant Jews from mixing the two festivities. Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, but a "a national holiday and one Jews should feel very good celebrating."

That has led to an explosion of creativity.

Search the term "Thanksgivukkah" online and you'll find baking recipes for turkey-shaped challah and pecan pie rugelach and instructions for making yarmulkes with pilgrim buckles and pumpkin menorahs. It's no wonder the website Buzzfeed has proclaimed it "The Best Holiday of All Time."

Locally, the Bolton Street Synagogue is celebrating with a pre-Thanksgivukkah potluck and latke competition. Wohlberg's Beth Tfiloh Congregation is setting off fireworks. And Joe Edwardsen, executive chef and founder of Joe Squared pizza, is throwing a pre-Thanksgivukkah bash Nov. 21 with live music and a huge spread that includes mulled wine, turkey legs confit and the decidedly non-kosher treat of bacon-wrapped whole turkeys.

"It's my two favorite holidays coming together," said Edwardsen.

Donna Oser has already made three turkey-shaped menorahs for her relatives. The Silver Spring grandmother affixed the nine Hanukkah candles to the tail feathers of a metal turkey frame she found at a craft store. She added a candle shaped like a dreidel and a needlepoint commemorating the date, and voila — a "menurkey" was born.

"For me, it's a labor of love," said Oser, who also helped her two young granddaughters make a menorah from baby pumpkins. "It's a special year and a unique year."

Her daughter, Marci Wertlieb, is debating whether to experiment with some of the more adventurous recipes that blend foods associated with each holiday.

"I was thinking of the Manischewitz-brined turkey," said Wertlieb, referring to the sugary, purple kosher wine. "But I'm concerned my kids won't eat pink or red turkey. They're already picky eaters."

Oser and Wertlieb are planning some kid-friendlier recipes, such as potato pancakes with cranberry chutney and doughnuts — a traditional Hanukkah treat — instead of pie.

Wohlberg said this would be a good year to try frying the turkey. Since Hanukkah commemorates a miracle in which a small vial of oil managed to keep the flame in the Temple burning for eight days, Hanukkah foods, like latkes and doughnuts, are traditionally fried in oil.

In Baltimore, another important event will make the day all the more momentous: The Ravens are playing their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, that evening.

Public relations maven Sandy Hillman and her husband, Bob, will be welcoming 12 relatives from Pittsburgh for the meal and game.

"We're going to do Thanksgivukkah dinner, Hanukkah gift-giving and then everyone is going to the game," said Hillman. "It's a Thanksgiving trifecta."

The Hillmans expect to have about two dozen people at their Guilford home, where Thanksgiving dinner will feature some Hanukkah treats such as corned beef and latkes.

Hillman is still figuring out how to decorate the table, perhaps with a cornucopia filled with dreidels or turkey-shaped dreidels, she said.

For families with young children, the early start to Hanukkah means they'll need to shop for toys before Black Friday's deep discounts begin.

"I told my kids they're getting all the good stuff on the eighth day of Hanukkah," said Amy Halushka, a writer and editor from Lutherville.

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