It’s not unusual for Pam Bingman’s family to have latkes, Eastern European potato pancakes, at their Hanukkah celebrations. This year, they’ll be made of sweet potato as the family also celebrates Thanksgiving.
“We’re trying to combine the traditional foods from both holidays,” Bingman said.
Hanukkah began at sundown Wednesday, falling unusually early this year and overlapping with Thanksgiving for the first time since the last Thursday of November was declared a federal holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Jewish families are combining the traditions of the two holidays, which normally don’t coincide.
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah won’t overlap again for about 70,000 years, according to Josh Winston, Rabbi of Temple Beth David in Cheshire. The Jewish calendar, based on both lunar and solar cycles, doesn’t have leap years and instead adds a month every seven years.
Next year Hanukkah will fall about a month later, Winston said.
The well-known eight-day celebration is actually a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, Winston said, and celebrates the unlikely victory of Maccabean Jewish rebels over the Seleucid Empire based in modern-day Syria. It’s usually observed at home with ceremonies including the lighting of a Hanukkah menorah candle each day.
A Jewish family may pick one or two nights for a larger celebration, Winston said.
This year a Hanukkah service at Temple Beth David was canceled because it would conflict with family events on Thanksgiving.
“We don’t think we’d get the number of people we’d like,” Winston said.
The history of the two holidays is also connected, according to Winston. Hanukkah was first held since the Seleucids had kept Jews from observing harvest festivals. It was on harvest festivals, described in the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian Old Testament, that the Pilgrims modeled their first Thanksgiving.
“There’s a deeper connection there,” Winston said.
Bingman, a Cheshire resident, said their combination of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will let their non-Jewish relatives see one of their faith’s celebrations. She’s planning on making cookies with Hanukkah themes and will light menorah candles each night.
“It’ll be a special celebration this year because they’ll get a special taste of Hanukkah,” Bingman said. “It’s nice for them to learn about it at the same time.”
Thankfulness to God is a theme of both holidays, she said, and both were begun after freedom from religious persecution.
Since Hanukkah doesn’t begin in December this year, it’s an opportunity to reinforce that the holiday isn’t the Jewish Christmas, according to Rabbi Shelley Kovar Becker of Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation in Southington.
“This year is a greater opportunity to teach,” she said.
Becker also mentioned the similarities of the holidays, both begun by people who had been persecuted for their faith.
Her congregation is having a celebration Sunday night at a member’s home.
Barbi Liftman, a member of the Southington congregation, said this Hanukkah will be special since there’s time off for family on Thanksgiving. With Hanukkah at times beginning on weekdays, Liftman said her grown children can’t always be with them.
Stacey Rovinsky, a Meriden resident, said her family celebrates Hanukkah by lighting a 6-foot homemade menorah. For the Thanksgiving meal, “of course we’ll add potato latkes to the menu,” she said.