In fact, even secular Jews tend not to celebrate Christmas. Recall Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings saying that on Christmas Eve she can usually be found eating at a Chinese restaurant. Because they are the only restaurants that open on Christmas.
In fact, last year I was in Las Vegas with my wife on December 25, and we went to see a mentalist perform. We noticed that the stand-in performer was Jewish and so was most of the audience. In short, we Jews on the whole do not generally celebrate Christmas and for good reason. It is fundamentally a Christian holiday, and besides we have our own festival, Hanukkah, which lasts for eight days rather than just one.
But, when it comes to Thanksgiving things are different. For starters, we don’t really have good excuse not to celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s not a Christian holiday, and it’s all about thanking God for everything good we have in our lives - sounds Jewish enough, doesn’t it? In addition, there is no Jewish holiday with which it coincides. Clearly many Jews are very comfortable celebrating Thanksgiving, turkey and all.
But many Orthodox Jews turn their nose up at Thanksgiving. The refrain that reverberates in Orthodox circles is that for us Jews “every day is Thanksgiving.” And there’s truth to this, being thankful is a very important part of our religion. The first thing said by a practicing Jew when s/he wakes up in the morning is “thank you God for returning my soul to me.” We say prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God many times each day.
But this year, Jews are faced with a very rare dilemma. For the first time in many years something has happened that will not happen again for at least another 70,000 years. The first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving. So now what should we celebrate? Should we celebrate Hanukkah or Thanksgiving? Or both? Well, unsurprisingly Jews have come up with a very creative solution: Many Jews will be celebrating a hybrid of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving and are calling it Thanksgivukkah.
Place gifts under Thanksgiving menorahSince this is such a rare event there is no code or guide about how one is to celebrate Thanksgivukkah. And whilst I admit that as a British expatriate living in America, I have never actually eaten turkey on Thanksgiving, I do, however, enjoy the day with my family. It’s that one day a year when I try my hand at cooking dinner for everyone.
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are conceptually related. In the proclamation about the celebration of Thanksgiving, John Hanson, president of the Continental Congress that later became the first national government of the United States during the revolution, explicitly states that because the events of the war have drawn to a close, he recommends that the inhabitants of the United States observe a day of solemn thanksgiving to God for all his mercies.
A read of the prayer that is said during Hanukkah reveals a strikingly similar theme of war, victory and praise and thanks to God. By the grace of God, the Maccabees won the war against their Syrian Greek adversaries and the festival of Chanukah was established for praise and thanksgiving for that miracle.
Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are, conceptually at least, the same holiday. I therefore see no reason why we shouldn’t all be celebrating them together as Thanksgivukkah. May I therefore suggest (both tongue in cheek yet with a touch of seriousness added) that whilst we Jews eat our Hanukkah turkey, gentiles should feel free to light a Thanksgiving menorah. And if gentiles would like to buy their kids presents early this year, they should do so and place them under their Thanksgiving menorah, and give it to their children while playing a good game of Thanksgivukkah dreidel.
May I end by wishing everyone a wonderful Hanukkah and a stupendous holiday season.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions , a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life