Stuffed times 8? It must be Thanksgivukkah!
November 27, 2013 by Kay Grossman

Thanksgivukkah?? It’s what happens when the eight days of Hanukkah overlap with Thanksgiving – like this year! I’ve read that it won’t happen again for over 70,000 years. So in spite of the goofiness of the combination word I think it deserves some attention, especially because the two holidays share some underlying themes. It also reminds me of a curious event from my childhood.

Both holidays celebrate religious freedom, renewal, and thankfulness. In a great simplification of both stories, the Jewish Maccabees in the second century B.C. and the early settlers of our country pursued freedom of worship, each facing difficult odds. Both stories focus on renewal, with the Maccabean rededication of the desecrated temple and the Pilgrims’ rededicating themselves to building a new life in America. We know that the Israelites were compelled to offer thanks to God for any bounty, just as the early settlers were reported to offer gratitude as they shared a meal with the native Americans.

The stories also deliver messages of self-determination, transcendence of prejudice, and national pride. When President Lincoln established Thanksgiving in 1861 in the midst of the Civil War, he sent a message that went beyond the political realm to the spiritual. He provided a symbol of gratitude and unity. That brings me to my childhood story.

I was raised as a Jew in a small Nebraska town that boasted only five Jewish families. Other than the time when my youngest sister came home crying from kindergarten because her teacher said there was no such word as “tushy,” my religious upbringing and identity didn’t cause me to feel uncomfortably “other.”

One year as Thanksgiving approached, my mother shared what I thought was a most astounding tale. A woman she knew asked her if Jews celebrate Thanksgiving. I was shocked. Did she think that Jews are not proud of America, or that we aren’t Americans? Did she think Jewish people wouldn’t demonstrate gratitude for our good fortune and each other? Did she not know that Thanksgiving is partly a celebration of religious freedom?

Many years have passed since then. I live in a larger city where it’s not an anomaly to be Jewish. However, there is no escaping that in most years, Hanukkah falls around Christmas and tends to compete with it, even though their two stories have absolutely nothing in common. In the context of our American culture that conjoins the two holidays to create “Chrismukkah,” I feel a measure of satisfaction that this year our two more compatible holidays coincide to create “Thanksgivukkah!”

I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude for the freedom to worship if and as you want to, for the connections and caring you have with and for others, and for your bounty however large or small.

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