About a year ago, former Pittsburgher Dana Reichman Gitell was driving her car through the streets of her current hometown — Boston — when her mind turned to the upcoming once-in-a-lifetime convergence of two of her favorite holidays: Chanukah and Thanksgiving.
Thinking “what a special day for Jewish Americans,” she then and there coined the word “Thanksgivukkah,” and later that same day started a Twitter feed and a Facebook page using the term — which she also trademarked — to celebrate an event that will not happen again for a really long time.
The first day of both Chanukah and Thanksgiving fall this year on Nov. 28, although the first Chanukah candle will be kindled on the previous night. The two holidays have fallen on the same day only once before, and will not again coincide for about 77,000 years, according to the calculations of Albuquerque, N.M., physicist Jonathan Mizrahi.
The last time the two holidays converged was in 1888, and assuming the Jewish calendar is not adjusted in the next several thousand years, it will not happen again until 79,811, according to Mizrahi, who posted the results of his calculations at jonathanmizrahi.blogspot.com.
Jews may get a chance to celebrate the two holidays together a bit sooner, though, because when the first day of Chanukah falls the day after Thanksgiving, the first night’s candle will be lit the night of Thanksgiving. This will happen in 2070 and 2165.
Still, Thanksgivukkah is a pretty rare occurrence, and an opportunity to sell kitschy T-shirts and mugs (moderntribe.com), foiled candy gelt embossed with turkeys that read “gobble tov” (foiledagainchocolate.com), and, perhaps the ultimate holiday meld, the “menurkey,” a turkey-menorah designed and named by 9-year-old Asher Weintraub, a fourth-grader from New York City, that has been selling like latkes (menurkey.com).
The whole country seems to be smitten with the idea of Thanksgivukkah. After 87 years, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will finally feature a Chanukah-themed float, a giant spinning dreidel balloonicle. Stephen Colbert satirically riffed on the convergence of the two holidays last month on “The Colbert Report.” And “Thanksgivukkah, the movie,” a short horror parody in which a Jewish family invades the home of the gentile Sullivans, and shakes up their all-American Thanksgiving — and for eight days! — has gone viral on the Web.
While at first blush the two holidays may not seem to have a lot in common, they both celebrate ideals of religious freedom, according to Rabbi Scott Aaron, community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning.
“Both holidays are linked by the idea of appreciation for religious freedom,” Aaron said. “Chanukah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem from the idolatrous Syrio-Greeks who had insisted that Jews observe their pagan gods. Thanksgiving marks a time when the Pilgrims sought new shores to build a home free from the religious control of the official Church of England.
“Though the historical details of both stories have been largely sanitized of their uncomfortable components involving discrimination and destruction of others,” Aaron continued, “the root of their struggles remains the same in that both the Maccabees and the Pilgrims took great risks to insure their right to worship God as they chose. They both believed God had blessed them for success over great challenges and both sought to thank God for that favor through celebration.”
There is fun to be had along with a sense of gratitude, said Gitell, who grew up in Squirrel Hill.
“There’s so much fun to have in celebrating any holiday,” she said. “But this is a unique experience for Jewish Americans to celebrate the Jewish American experience, and to celebrate America.
“Growing up in Squirrel Hill was a positive experience for me,” she added. “Not only was it OK to be Jewish, but it was the cool thing to be Jewish, and growing up there informed this project. It made me have all these feelings of gratitude and appreciation for this country.”
And, of course, like all Jewish holidays, Thanksgivukkah is also very much about the food. Chefs and bakers throughout the country are getting creative, with dishes such as New York’s Zucker Bakery’s turkey-stuffed donuts, served with gravy or cranberry sauce, and the Lower East Side’s Taquitoria’s taquito filled with latkes, applesauce and sour cream.
That should hold us for another 77,000 years.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)