This year the beginning of Hanukkah falls on November 28, the same day as Thanksgiving. Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication, is an eight day Jewish holiday that falls between late November and late December, depending on the year. The holiday commemorates a Jewish military victory over Greek troops in the second century B.C. when a day’s worth of lamp oil lasted for eight days when the menorah was lighted in the recaptured temple in Jerusalem. Don’t expect to see another time when Thanksgiving and the beginning of Hanukkah occur on the same day in the near future; last time it happened was in 1888 and it is not expected to happen again for 57 to over 70,000 years depending on how you calculate it.
Although considered a minor Jewish holiday, the eight days involve special rituals and customs. In addition to lighting the Menorah over the eight day period, the holiday commemorates the miracle of the lamp oil by eating foods fried in oil. Special favorites are latkes and sufganiot. Latkes are pancakes usually made of potatoes but also from a variety of other vegetables, cheeses, and starches. Sufganiot is a deep fried doughnut with a filling especially popular in Israel. The doughnut was originally filled with jam but fancier fillings such as dulce de leche and chocolate cream are also used. Powdered sugar or fancy toppings are also added. Sufganiots have become a very popular Hanukkah food in spite of their high calorie content (up to 600 calories each), and bakeries have begun producing mini-versions to appeal to more health conscious consumers.
Fortunately there are no food prohibitions during Hanukkah so Jewish Americans can combine their Thanksgiving and Hanukkah meals and traditions with ease. The idea of “Thanksgivukkah” has arisen to celebrate the two holidays, combining traditions from both. Turkey and latkes can certainly be enjoyed together; perhaps make the latkes from sweet potatoes. Try using challah for turkey stuffing or making sufganiot with a cranberry jelly filling. Be creative with the menorah and try a menurkey (turkey with candlesticks) or mini pumpkins to hold the candles. Whatever you do, remember, November 28, 2013 is a very unique day.