When I first heard the term “Thanksgivukkah”—the convergence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving—and that it was happening this year, I must admit that I became a little anxious because it brought back some of my interfaith marriage insecurities that I thought were long gone. I thought Thanksgivukkah might throw a wrench in the interfaith plan we’ve perfected over the years. My husband, Matt, and I have been pretty good at coexisting with each other’s in-laws (really, it has been passive conversations around one another’s holidays and religion). But this year, the Pilgrims and the Maccabees are staring us straight in the face.
Years before we had children, Matt and I were at a crossroads in our relationship, so we participated in the Reform Jewish Outreach Boston’s “Yours, Mine & Ours (YMO) program. This small group facilitated discussion, helped us lay our dilemmas out on the table and discuss them in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. In reality, the majority of what held us back was my insecurities about dating someone who was not Jewish. My family wasn’t on board with it at the time. In fact, my grandmother stopped speaking to me for a year and, deep down, I really wanted to raise a Jewish family. Luckily, through YMO and discussions outside of the class, Matt and I were able to move beyond these issues.
We agreed to avoid any holiday conflicts and spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws in Seattle and Christmas/Chanukah with my parents in Florida. The decision was made easier by the fact that it’s sunnier and 15 degrees warmer in Florida than in Seattle! But this arrangement also avoids any awkward situations, especially around traditional Christmas festivities. My in-laws really want to send Christmas presents, but they graciously wrap them in Chanukah paper, so it’s a win-win all around.
This turkey of a dilemma is new territory for our family. What if my in-laws were uncomfortable with celebrating Chanukah? Are we diluting the way we would observe Chanukah, especially since we would probably go to a Chanukah party in Boston or light the candles every night? I don’t want them to feel like we are pushing our holiday on them, especially since we are in their home. I want to pay the same respect to my in-laws as they have to me over the years and not force Chanukah upon them.
But I got over my fears when I realized how amazing this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence really is (unless we live for another 70,000 years!). It can also be a great educational opportunity for older kids. As it turns out, my in-laws (including my sister-in-law, her husband and their children) are so excited about Thanksgivukkah they can hardly contain themselves either! My sister-in-law and I are already discussing the menu thanks to all of the Thanksgivukkah-inspired recipes available online.
For a craft idea, I purchased two menurkeys (menorahs shaped like turkeys) that will be shipped to my mother-in-law’s house. The plan is to get all of the cousins together with some oil-based paints and decorate them, and light them for the eight nights we’ll be in Seattle. You want to know the best part? They’ll finally learn what a tchotchke is, since we’ll be leaving one menurkey as a souvenir!
Truthfully, there are similarities about the two holidays: religious freedom, being thankful and more. My almost 3-year-old son won’t grasp it; he’s just too young. But he’ll enjoy painting the menurkey, lighting (and blowing out!) the candles and eating the chocolate gelt. His cousins are a little older and will certainly understand it. This is their first experience with Chanukah at home, and they are really excited to be celebrating “our holiday” with us. Hopefully we can make a tradition out of it. Even if Chanukah won’t land on Thanksgiving for another 70,000 years, who says we can’t light a candle or play dreidel every year? We can start a new family tradition!
Find more tips for celebrating Thanksgivukkah as an interfaith family here.
Julie Unger is a consultant who has worked in a variety of roles within the Jewish community. She is currently the coordinator for families with young children at Temple Israel of Boston and also helps with marketing efforts at URJ's Reform Jewish Outreach Boston. Julie is in an interfaith marriage with her husband, Matt, and they have two young children, Solomon, 3, and Dalya, 8 months. When she's not out gallivanting with her family in Melrose, Julie enjoys trying to cook ridiculously complicated recipes, which she often has to force her family to eat.