First of all, because Thanksgiving lands dependably on the fourth Thursday in November — we can plan on it — even buy plane tickets way ahead of time so we can get to it. Hanukkah jumps around year after year and pops up on dates that are not always easy to incorporate into a family ritual. The lunar Jewish calendar keeps us on our toes and demands celebratory adaptability. Even though Hanukkah lasts eight days, it’s often hard to find even one day that the whole family can be together.
Happily, once again this Thanksgiving, all of the cousins will be present– as they have been for the past 25 years. And, because Thanksgiving is allowing Hanukkah a piggyback ride, we will all be together for Hanukkah too – Brilliant! So, we must celebrate the Festival of Lights as we carve the Turkey because, to paraphrase Descartes, “We Gather Therefore We Are.” But alas the devil is in the details.
What if you are celebrating Thanksgiving with those who don’t celebrate Hanukkah? How and where do you make space for the latkes? How and where do you deal with the gifts if that’s part of your ritual? Hey, I don’t go over to my friends’ houses Christmas morning when they are opening their presents (even though I want to). What about introducing Hebrew prayers into the Thanksgiving pre-dinner ritual? And really does anyone want to join in on our traditional Hanukkah songs?
Wednesday night the cast of 24 will begin to file in to my sister and brother-in-law’s Vermont home (half who celebrate Hanukkah and half who don’t). That first night a traditional pre-Thanksgiving dinner will be served. Thursday is Turkey day and Friday is Turkey leftover day. So — when I called my sister in Vermont to let her know I would be bringing latkes, we put our brains to work as to when best to bring them out. Since my sister and her husband have hosted us for 25 years at their Vermont home and the traditions are well carved out (pun intended), this discussion seemed appropriate. When should we serve them? When to light the menorah? Perhaps we should skip the gifts (yeah!).
My guess – the latkes will find their way – the menorah will get lit – the songs will get sung and a few presents will get distributed. We will remember this Thanksgiving as bold and bright with a Hanukkah chaser – a spice that is notable but not intrusive – a step-child who is loved and appreciated but not part of the original flock of Turkeys. And whatever happens, we won’t have to worry about it for another 70,000 years.