Hanukkah Occupies Thanksgiving: Colbert Hates It, Jews Love It

Why is this artifact of dates so hyped? Because unlike Christmukkah, there is no whiff of assimilation guilt.

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'Happy Thanksgivukkah' / Screenshot Buzzfeed/John Gara
'Happy Thanksgivukkah' / Screenshot Buzzfeed/John Gara

Unless you’ve been living on the Jewish equivalent of a desert island, by now you know that Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah fall on the same day this year: the result has become popularly known as the once-in-a-lifetime, heavily-hyped holiday of Thanksgivukkah.

Why ‘Thanksgivukkah’? Why not “Chanksgiving?” And why all the hype and excitement? The origins of the word is an episode of a television series in which the child of intermarried Jewish and Christian parents, addresses the “December dilemma” - which parents’ tradition to honor - with Christmukkah - merging both traditions into one fabulous celebration.

“Christmukkah” carries a whiff of stigma and guilt of assimilation. Many a North American Jewish parent has had to deal with the question of instilling a positive Jewish identity in their kids when shiny tempting Christmas is all around them. Jewish households deal with the holiday in a whole spectrum of ways - from intermarried homes that combine the tradition to those who object to any participation by their kids in Christmas festivities, whether it is trimming the tree at a friends’ house or singing Christmas carols as harmless as ‘Winter Wonderland.’ It is often no fun to be a kid or a parent when Hanukkah has to compete with the forbidden allure of Christmas.

Thanksgivukkah, on the other hand - now that’s an idea Jews can embrace with enthusiasm and excitement. Thanksgiving, along with July 4th, is the official favorite non-Jewish holiday of the American Jewish community because they are purely national with no religious roots at all either blatant or subtle (unlike say, Valentine's Day with its saint origins or Halloween with its pagan overtones.)

Another reason Thanksgiving has always gone over big with the Jews? We are foodcentric - it’s all about the meal, fitting into the Jewish holiday tradition of “They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.” Food has been at the center of much of the Thanksgivukkah hype. The most shared article on Thanksgivukkah has been Buzzfeed’s post How to Celebrate Thanksgivukkah, the Best Holiday of All Time featuring recipes for Manischewitz-brined turkey with challah apple stuffing and latkes with cranberry applesauce. Except for the latkes, though, their menu pretty much looks like a Jewed-up Thanksgiving without too much that is Hanukkah specific.

Even Emmy-winning comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert has gotten in on the Thanksgivukkah act, with his conservative alter ego crying that Thanksgiving is “under attack” by Chanukah, noting that:

“Hanukkah celebrates the struggle of an oppressed people’s fight against invading conquerors, while Thanksgiving is about our healthy and nurturing relationship with the Indians.”

Thanksgivukkah, however is more than just a holiday - it’s a business. More than a year ago a marketing maven named Dana Gitell from Norwood, Massachusetts spotted the opportunity on the calendar and moved quickly. She trademarked the word “Thanksgivukkah,” teamed up with the website ModernTribe.com to sell Thanksgivukkah-related merchandiseand is selling T-shirts and greeting cards like hot suvganiot and latkes as well as dealing Menurkeys, the turkey-shaped menorahs.

Beyond the Thanksgivukkah-specific business, the extremely early appearance of Hanukkah has wider implications for the economy and is ‘upending the shopping season,’ according to Marketwatch:

“A chunk of holiday shoppers – the modern-day Hanukkah tradition is to give gifts on each of the eight nights – will be buying presents well in advance of the usual post-Thanksgiving Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales push. Could that result in weaker overall holiday sales at a time when retailers are hoping for their strongest season since the Great Recession? Or could it actually be a boon in disguise, since it will give stores all they reason they need to extend the season earlier than ever?

Retail experts are more inclined to see Thanksgivukkah as a positive, saying it will accelerate the trend of recent years to jump start the shopping calendar in an effort to boost the bottom lineat least one ecommerce firm is already planning on doing an early Cyber Monday promotion. ScanMyPhotos.com, an Irvine, Calif., company that specializes in photo transfer services, has decided to make October 21 its “Hanukkah-friendly” Cyber Monday, saying it would hate to shut the virtual door on Jewish shoppers who can’t wait until the formal Cyber Monday of December 2.”

I know what you’re thinking.

Is Thanksgivukkah all show business flash and commercial hype hype? Isn’t anyone talking about the deep, true meaning of Thanksgivukkah?

Well, indeed, if you decide to get all serious and spiritual about it, some thoughts on the two holidays is available. None other than the Chabad Lubavitcher rebbe himself, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson gave a sermon on the topic back in December 13, 1984, which, thanks to the magic of YouTubehas been preserved by Chabad for posterity, like every other recorded word the rebbe uttered.

Noting that both the Czar’s Russia (which imprisoned the founder of Chabad) and the Hellenic empire of Greece in the Chanukah story were ‘empires of tyranny’ the rebbe said that “there is a country that fights tyranny, and whose actions reflect its good will, in practical deeds which are the most important - and an expression of its goodness and freedom is the fact that Jewish people are allowed to practice Torah and Mitzvos freely, and certainly not like the Greeks, imposing heresy.”

He added, “We must emphasize again and again, that the very founding of the United States was upon faith in God this very foundation of this country was laid down by the original settlers and later by the Founding Fathers. Immediately, after settling in this country they proclaimed a holiday of Thanksgiving to God, the creator and director of the World, for saving them and bringing them to a secure land where they could live free of servitude and oppression.”

You might think it unusual for such a hard-core Haredi leader to promote a national holiday like Thanksgiving, he gave it a ringing endorsement. But this particular speech came at a time when he was extremely cozy with President Ronald Reagan - who shared his dislike for separating church and state and supported the infamous Chabad crusade to put Hanukkah menorahs in public spaces - so he was feeling very good about America.

However, if Chabad isn’t your cup of tea and sermons from the rebbe are too heavy a vehicle for your Thanksgivukkah message there’s a lighter, more entertaining version available. Check out the Thanksgivukkah song, sung by Massachusetts Rabbi David Paskin.

Imagine Judah Maccabee sitting down to roast turkey

Passing the potatoes to Squanto

And pilgrims in Jerusalem standing with Hasmoneans

Got to get this temple cleaned up pronto

Like applesauce with cranberries, turkey stuffed with fried latkes

It’s clear that this is one heck of a mitzvah

Let’s celebrate this great country, religious minorities

Everybody loves Thanksgivukkah

Amen. Pass the cranberry sauce.

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