It’s been more than 100 years since it’s happened, but for many Jewish families, celebrating Hanukkah during Thanksgiving just means more food.
“We’ll have the latkes and we’ll have the doughnuts. We’re still going to have the traditional Hanukkah food, but we’re also going to have the turkey and stuffing,” said Forsyth resident Dan Levi, who will celebrate the holiday this week with wife Lisa and their two children.
Food has always been a central part of Jewish holidays and Hanukkah, which starts Wednesday night, is no different. Jewish families make doughnuts and latkes, or potato pancakes, both cooked in olive oil to represent the miracle the holiday commemorates.
The faith teaches the miracle followed the destruction of the holy temple more than 2,000 years ago.
While rebuilding the temple, Jews rounded up enough olive oil to provide light for one day. But the oil miraculously lasted for eight, enabling the reconstruction and rededication of the temple.
In remembrance, Jewish families light candles in a special candleholder, called a chanukiah, or menorah, and recite a prayer.
On the first night, one candle will be lit, with an additional candle lit daily. The last night, when all eight candles glow in remembrance, is Dec. 4 this year.
Typically, the holiday is celebrated in December, often coinciding with Christmas. It’s rare for Hanukkah to begin in November, said Carla Birnbaum, judiac studies coordinator at Congregation Gesher L’Torah.
The last time a night of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving was likely in the 1890s, she said, adding that it won’t happen again until 2070.
“It’s a very uncommon thing,” she said. “There’s been a lot of our community talking about how they’re going to blend the holidays together.
“They’re saying things like happy Thanksgivukkah and how their meal is going to include turkey and latkes instead of turkey and mashed potatoes.”
The reason the holiday changes dates each year is because Jews follow a lunar calendar while the Gregorian calendar follows the sun, explained Birnbaum. The moon’s rotation around the Earth takes less time than the sun’s, meaning the Jewish calendar has 29 or 30 days each month instead of 30 or 31.
“So instead of having a leap year like the Gregorian calendar does, where they add a day, the Jewish calendar adds a whole month ... so that way our calendar stays on track with the moon,” she said. “That’s why Jewish holidays fall at different times of the year on the Gregorian calendar.”
The extra month will be added in March, meaning Hanukkah next year will fall back in line, starting in mid-December and ending on Christmas eve.
Birnbaum said the holiday could save some families from having to travel in November for Thanksgiving and again in December for Hanukkah by celebrating both at once. It’s also a chance for a lesson.
“A lot of Jewish holidays are tradition-based and heritage-based and a lot of families come together to celebrate the holidays and the same thing can be said for Thanksgiving,” she said.
“It’s especially special that we get to do it together this year, and hopefully the kids will remember both being thankful for things and getting their Hanukkah gift.”
For the Levi family, Hanukkah will involve travel, but not to see other family members.
“We’re actually going away to the mountains to get some time away,” he said. “We usually have family come in, but this year we decided to do something a little different.”
While the family will likely have leftover turkey and latkes for a week, Levi said they won’t make their traditional brisket this year. Still, celebrating the holiday so early this year actually makes it more fun, since it’s not competing with Christmas.
“Whenever it’s near Christmas, we always have to have the discussion about Christmas, that it’s so present,” he said. “So I’m actually kind of happy that it’s earlier.”