Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. They go together like stuffing and menorahs, like football and dreidels, like Pilgrims and Jews. Like Thanksgiv and ukkah.
It’s been 125 years since Thanksgiving fell on the first day of Hanukkah, or the first day of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving, depending on your allegiances. Everyone’s excited! Thanksgivukkah has its own Twitter account, its own widely shared BuzzFeed listicle (“How to Celebrate Thanksgivukkah, the Best Holiday of All Time”), and a $3 million Manischewitz marketing campaign. The New York Times cafeteria got into the spirit, serving a special Thanksgivukkah lunch (“You won’t have that meal again for 70,000 years, so enjoy it,” tweeted one totally jealous ProPublica staffer). And a New York fourth-grader named Asher Weintraub successfully Kickstarted the “Menurkey”—a turkey-shaped menorah—which people are buying. In the words of David “the Latke King” Firestone in the pages of the New York Times, “As the two Google Calendars that rule our lives, Jewish and secular, collide in spectacular fashion, we are letting the gravy of one holiday freely flow into the olive oil of another.”
As delicious as oily gravy is, I would prefer to keep my holidays separate, thanks. Here’s why:
I don’t want my kids to think Thanksgiving is a “present holiday.” As a Jew married to a Christmas-celebrating atheist, it’s bad enough that my children get both Hanukkah and Christmas presents, which usually guarantees that all of December is ruined because gifts turn children into monsters of entitlement who spend all their time either demanding presents, comparing presents, or whining about not getting enough presents. “Don’t get them so many presents!,” you say. I agree. But Shemini Atzeret was barely over before my parents started asking what my children want for Thanksgiving this year. “We’ll have to do presents! It’s Hanukkah, after all.” And while Thanksgivukkah is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, I guarantee that every little Jewish boy and girl who gets a gift on Thursday will, going forward, expect gifts on the fourth Thursday of November—forever.
Sweet and sour braised brisket with cranberry sauce is an abomination. No, I haven’t tried it. I’m sure your recipe is very good. But it’s not Thanksgiving food. It’s like eating blintzes on the Fourth of July or ham on Passover (Oh, God: Easover? Passeaster?). Some traditions should not be meddled with. However, I will admit that this objection is pretty thin, given that in most instances I enjoy a good cultural mingling. Your wedding reception where you danced the Hora and then the Greek Orthodox version of the Hora? Loved it. So why can’t I embrace the idea of a cornucopia sculpted out of the tinfoil wrappings of chocolate coins?
Because my favorite thing about Thanksgiving is that it’s secular. I know, I know, we’re supposed to be giving thanks to “our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” as Abe Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation establishing the holiday put it. But for most Americans, Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. It is a food and football holiday. We eat, drink, watch parades, argue about politics, and give thanks. In my family, at least, the gratitude is secular—we give thanks to each other. The most common choked-up toast at the table: “I’m just so lucky to have all of you.” I don’t want my religion or anyone else’s pulling up a seat.
Some of this is because I am intermarried. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to have this one major holiday—the best one!—that isn’t in some part about what I am and my husband is not (Jewish), or what he is and I’m not (Christmas-celebrating). Given the latest survey of American Jews—58 percent of whom are intermarried—I suspect we are not alone in those feelings. Thanksgiving, for all its colonialist origin-story problems, is the one great holiday where you don’t have to explain to your kids why Mom believes this and Dad believes that. One great holiday that all of your neighbors celebrate, regardless of background. There’s that communal Wednesday afternoon rush to get out of work, and the shared hell that is every rest stop between your home and your destination—I don’t need to tell you. You get it. America!
So here comes Hanukkah to gum up the works. It’s not Hanukkah’s fault. The conventional wisdom on the festival of lights is that it’s lame—a sad wannabe Christmas that’s about as fun as watching candles melt because you can’t blow them out. (True story.) But I’m not down on Hanukkah! No! In fact, I’m into it. I like how low-stakes Hanukkah is. I like the smell of wax burning as I wash the dishes. I like latkes dipped in apple sauce (but really I like latkes dipped in sugar). I like that it has multiple spellings to confuse our enemies. I like how if you miss one night, there’s always another. Let’s skip Thursday.