Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Thanksgivukkah—oy

menorahThanksgivukkah is the name people have given this year’s rare event: the first day of Chanukah falls on Thanksgiving. It’s so rare that the last time it happened was in 1888. I suppose this seems strange to many people, especially those who think Chanukah is the Jewish Christmas; it isn’t, but there are those who think it is. But even for those of us who celebrate Chanukah, it seems strange to do so in November.

Hooray, we’re not dead!
There are a number of Jewish holidays that celebrate historical victories against people who sought to either kill off all the Jews or do away with the religion. Chanukah is one of them. It commemorates events from more than twenty-one centuries ago, when a small band of Jews defeated the Seleucids who were trying to force the Jews to abandon their faith and embrace Greek traditions. As the story goes, when the Jewish rebels rescued the Temple in Jerusalem from the Greeks, they found enough oil to burn for one night. Miracle of miracles—the oil burned for eight, which gave them enough time to get more oil.

Turkey Donuts
To celebrate this miracle, Jews eat potato latkes and/or donuts fried in oil. Those of us trying to wrap our heads around the concept of Thanksgivukkah, are wondering what to serve this year. I have seen recipes for Thanksgiving latkes and suggestions that we eat turkey stuffed donuts. While I’m all for sweet potato latkes served with cranberries, I think I’ll stick with jelly donuts—sometimes I’m just a purist at heart.

Religious Freedom to Burn and Banish
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman has written a lovely post about how Chanukah and Thanksgiving have more in common than coincidentally falling on the same day. He wrote that both Chanukah and Thanksgiving are celebrations of surviving religious oppression. The Jews defeated the oppressive Seleucids, and, as we were taught in elementary school, the Pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious oppression in England. Okay, I see the comparison and I respect Rabbi Freeman’s opinion, but I have one problem with it: the Pilgrims, and Puritans in general, were intolerant of other faiths. According to my son’s history textbook, the Massachusetts government, run by Puritan colonists, banished anyone who questioned the doctrines of the colony’s churches, executed Quakers, and burned books. They also tried to force Native Americans to abandon their traditions, dress like Englishmen, and adopt Christianity. Religious freedom? I don’t think so.

Food, Glorious Food
I’ve always wrestled with the historical aspect of Thanksgiving for this very reason, so I don’t celebrate the history; I celebrate the food. After all, it is a celebration of the harvest, a celebration of food. That is something I can embrace wholeheartedly. I have always believed that there is something deeply spiritual about food, which is why it is an important aspect of holidays and why I created a cuisine for my fantasy world of Awan. On Awan there is also a celebration of the harvest, but it is not based on Thanksgiving. It is based on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, one of my favorite holidays. It also exemplifies the concept of Jewish Shamanism more than any other holiday, which I will write about in my next post. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you are looking for some recipes for the holiday, check out Amy Kritzer’s blog: What jew Wanna Eat.

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Thanksgivukkah—oy

  1. Hi Gail: You may also want to check out the less than savory aspects of the Chanukah story. This was most likely an internal civil war in which the Seleucid king, Antiochus, intervened. The modern scholarship section of the Hanukkah Wikipedia article sheds some light on this. I think you’re right in saying they don’t have much in common, but not because the actions of the Puritans were ugly, while the Hasmoneans were blameless while fighting the Hellenists. They’re just two very different stories.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Donna. It doesn’t surprise me. Is there any historical event that doesn’t have its dark side? To be honest, I’ve never really celebrated the historical aspect of Chanukah either. I’m more drawn to the the mystical quality of light during the darkest time of year than anything else.

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