SantaCon, the annual pub crawl featuring legions of participants dressed in Santa outfits is scheduled to happen in New York City on December 14th! (For more information about joining in and the route to be traversed, see http://santacon.info/New_York-NY/.) Always, mingling with the crowd of Santa Clauses, Mrs. Clauses, elves and all-things Christmas, are several Hanukkah Harrys (see previous December 2012 blog post). What is interesting this year is the AntiCon protest that is brewing (pun intended) in the Lower East Side…see http://observer.com/2013/12/take-your-body-fluids-and-public-intoxication-elsewhere-les-residents-stage-anticon/
This confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah proved to be a holiday that was a once-in-a-lifetime event! With that in mind, it merits a bit more reflection!
For the last word on the subject of Thanksgivukkah, take a look at “Two Words for the Price of One: on Thanskgivukkah and the History of Portmanteaus” featured in the On Language Column by Philogogos in the Forward newspaper on December 6, 2013. Philologos expresses surprise that given all the hoopla surrounding the confluence of the two holidays that only one reader to the column had written in. The reader complained that the more appropriate combination should have been ”Thanksgivnukkah”….and Philologos agrees!!! He, in fact, proffers “Hanukkiving” but declines the argument due to the timing of the next coincidence of the two holidays (in 79,811 years)! Philologos does use the write-in letter as a springboard for a discussion of portmanteau words, the splicing of “truncated parts of two separate words.” Citing its origin with two French words (one, porter, to carry, and the other, manteaux, a coat) a leather suitcase that opened into two separate compartments. Also interesting is Philologos’s citation of “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, where Humpty Dumpty instructs Alice that certain of the words contained therein are “portmanteau—two meanings packed into one word.” For more about historical usage of the portmanteau, refer to Philologos!!! http://forward.com/tags/Thanksgivukkah/
And, Jenna Weissman Joselit in “’Tis the Season For Holiday Synthesis: Why Thanksgivukkah Should Happen More Often,” (http://forward.com/articles/188729/tis-the-season-for-holiday-synthesis), considers the cultural impact of what she terms a “calendrical convergence.” Joselit attributes the popularity of the blended holiday to three “pillars”: family, food and ritual. And to give it an additional stamp of authenticity, Joselit links the convergent holiday to what preeminent Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna termed the “cult of synthesis” in a 1998 Jewish Social Studies article addressing the nineteenth century yearned for conjoining of Americanism and Judaism based upon shared value systems. Joselit turns the “cult of synthesis” on its head by ignoring its solemn roots and applying it to a light-hearted, “playful, fun and even irreverent” convergence, a “reflection of a moment in time when American Jews, and the nation as a whole, are engaged in the project of reimaging themselves.”
In my book, A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish, I devote a chapter to what, in modern parlance, might be termed “blended holidays.” Immediately what comes to mind is Chrismukkah, which was created by American businesses and organizations to cater to interfaith families. I will be discussing this hybrid holiday later in the season but the term can also be applied, although certainly with less surrounding controversy, to the once-in-a-lifetime media blitz that is Thanksgivukkah. The array of articles to read, items to be purchased, and events to attend is dizzying. With a hat (tri-cornered or buckle-festooned) tipped to next Thursday, here are the last mentions that I will make of this unique event!
Major League Dreidel is hosting its annual spinning contest, retitled this year, Thanks-Spinning, on Monday, November 25th at Full Circle Bar, 318 Grand Street (between Havemeyer Street and Marcy Avenue) in Williamsburg at 8:00 pm. (For more information, call: 347 725 4588)
In “How About Latkes With Cranberry Sauce?” Rabbi Gerald L. Zelizer engages in an erudite discussion of the linkage between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Sukkot. [see “Forward Forum,” The Forward, November 15, 2013, page 13]
Rumor has it that Macy’s has added a giant dreidel to its Thanksgiving Parade line-up!
An alternative t-shirt can be purchased bearing the image of Judah Maccabee. For more information, contact email@example.com.
And, our dear friend and cooking impresario Jennifer Abadi, speculates, in her blog “What if in another century or more Passover somehow crossed over with Thanksgiving AND Chanukah? How would we cope with this holy trinity, and more importantly, what would we serve? She then offers “the perfect recipe that embodies a little bit for each holiday: A sweet & spicy sweet potato latke with cumin, curry, and cayenne, that is served with cranberry sauce and/or apple butter! Yes, here is how it works for all you skeptics out there: sweet potato cumin-curry-cayenne latkes with cranberry relish.” [see: http://toogoodtopassover.com/2013/11/25/what-about-passgivukkuh/]
Much speculation has been given to why Thanksgivukkah has been so widely embraced. Allison Kaplan Sommer offers that Chrismukkah carries a “whiff of stigma and guilt of assimilation.” Thanksgiving is a cherished American holiday lacking in religious undertone and is food-centric. The blending of the two holidays is therefore without controversy. [See: Allison Kaplan Sommer, "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."Haaretz, October 13, 2013]
Lastly, the moniker “Givukkah” has been bandied about. This could certainly apply any day of the year when gifts are proffered and would not be restricted to the confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah!
That said, it is with gratitude that the confluence of the two holidays will soon be behind us!
So, we’ve all heard that the last time Hanukkah and Thanksgiving occurred on the same date, it was in 1888. Not much else has been contributed to the discussion about this. My research of historical records indicates that from 1850, German Jews, who had emigrated to the United States, celebrated Thanksgiving. Combining Jewish and American rituals, in 1873, Congregation Berith Kodesh of Rochester, New York participated in the first Jewish Thanksgiving interfaith congregational service in the United States. And, in 1888, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah were coincident. Comparisons were drawn between their respective themes of freedom that undergirded both holidays. Newspaper reports at the time in the American Israelite recorded conjoint celebrations of the two holidays.
We recently received a comment from Alex about a tradition in his family’s unique Hanukkah celebration and the commercial offshoot of that tradition. Alex and his brother, Mike, have developed “Menorah Tree,” the result of a family project conceived in his very own New York apartment. According to Alex: “The Menorah Tree is a 6 foot tall metal and garland menorah that provides the first true alternative for Jewish and interfaith families who want to celebrate Hanukkah with something as big and festive as a Christmas tree but would prefer to do it with an iconic Jewish design.” The tree awaits adornment and personalization by anyone who purchases it!
The articles about Thanksgivukkah continue to appear at a fast and furious pace! Not to be outdone by its on-line peers, Time Out New York has two pages in its Food and Drink Section in its November 7-13 issue on planning a Thanksgivukkah feast! Recommendations include Turducken from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, Sweet Potato Latkes at Shelsky’s Smoked Fish, Braised Brisket and Sufganiyot at Mile End Delicatessen, beets from Gefilteria, and pie, pie and more pie! (Please note that kashrut does not come into play with most, if not all, of these items and sources.)
The Menurkey makes it into the New York Times! In the November 7th Home and Garden section under the rubric “Currents/Goods”, the Menurkey is proffered as a current trend. Despite its somewhat awkward design, the media has captured the charm underlying the Menurkey’s creation. I imagine many parents will be listening to their children’s ideas while forecasting forward about future sale-ability.
That was then: Although Hanukkah was not historically of relative import as a holiday, it was awaited with great anticipation by the children! Let’s face it…children are excited about Hanukkah gifts! Gelt, a gift of money that is given throughout the holiday, provided the leitmotif for Sholom Aleichem’s story “Chanukah Gelt.” In quest of holiday coins, two brothers brave a visit to Uncle Moishe-Aaron. After tolerating relentless and tiresome conversation, the boys are rewarded…with valueless Russian coins. OY!!!
This is now: Gelt is still given; however, on a community-wide basis, American Jews in the late twentieth century expanded upon the European practice of supporting the poor in the Jewish community as part of the Hanukkah Gelt tradition. The propensity for Jews acting charitably during the Jewish holidays, notably Hanukkah, may have eased the way for American Jews to embrace volunteerism at Christmas-time. American Jews, acting in the spirit of Hanukkah, have broadened the gelt-giving practice to acts of tzedakah outside of the Jewish community. Furthermore, Jewish institutions have used the tradition of Hanukkah gelt as a theme for seasonal fundraising.
In the 1920s, American candy companies, such as Loft’s, first introduced gold and silver foil-wrapped chocolate gelt. According to Rabbi Deborah Prinz, who explored the historical nexus between Jews and chocolate in her book On The Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals And Recipes To The Magic Of Cacao, links this inspiration to chocolate coins (called “geld”) given to children during the St. Nicholas holiday celebrated in Belgium and the Netherlands in early December.
As some of you may recall, last December, my family and I were in England over our son’s winter break from school. While I participated in Limmud U.K. (the British Jewish response to Christmas), my wife and son joined with various members of our British family in London for several holiday meals. This was my family’s first exposure to the holiday miracle that is the “cracker!” (Not wanting to be repetitive, scroll over to my previous blog post entitled “Post-Christmas Post” for a full description of the cracker and how it is used!) One family of British cousins opened crackers at the end of Shabbat dinner! Let’s just say, for our son, it was ‘love at first sight!’ Well…I have great news! The cracker apparently has crossed the Atlantic and has entered into the Jewish vernacular!
Manischewitz has sponsored a panoply of e-cards tailored specifically for the melded holiday. They all have a 1960s vibe! Definitely check out: http://thanksgivukah.com!
So everyone does it! And even with chocolate!
What are we talking about? It’s the giving of Hanukkah gelt!!! So, one might ask: where does this custom originate?
The origin of giving Hanukkah gelt dates back to seventeenth century Poland. It originally pertained to charitable giving of money for the purchase and maintenance of holy objects in the synagogue. The custom then expanded to giving to the poor. Beggars would stop by the homes of Jewish kinfolk to collect Hanukkah gelt. Even though begging door-to-door was generally prohibited by Jewish communities, Hanukkah time was considered an exception to the rule. Gelt-giving to teachers was also customary and became an expected monetary bonus contributing to the teachers’ primary means of support. Gelt-giving was also considered a way to emphasize and model the dignity of giving as required by the Torah. The tradition later broadened to include gifts to Jewish communal workers and eventually to children for their own account and to students as a means to sweeten the process of Jewish learning and as a reward for Torah study.
So, where are we today vis-à-vis the giving of gelt? Certainly, gelt is often given to children during Hanukkah. However, chocolate gelt has certainly permeated the Jewish cultural mindset. Even Trader Joe’s carries chocolate gelt. (It’s available now but is wildly popular, so don’t wait!)
Thanksgivukkah tidbit: Judging from what we have observed in the media (both print form and internet-based), the countdown to Thanksgivukkah continues! (Perhaps a kosher version of the advent calendar is in order!) In case you didn’t know, you really need to purchase Thankgivukkah gelt, made from Pure Belgian Callebaut chocolate by Foiled Again Chocolates (foiledagainchocolate.com).