When Lou Greenstein sits for his holiday meal today, there will be a roasted turkey, Indian pudding, stuffing as well as latkes, tzimmes and challah bread.
As a Jew, Greenstein will be celebrating Hanukkah and Thanksgiving on the same day as the second candle on the menorah will be lit tonight. This is the first time since 1918 that the two holidays have overlapped, and it will not happen again until 2070, according to Chabad.org.
Hanukkah, known as the festival of lights, began at sundown on Wednesday. The eight-day holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In 165 B.C. Judah Maccabee and his brothers led a victorious battle over the Syrians, who had forced them to worship Greek gods. After the temple was desecrated, Maccabee found consecrated oil for one day, but it miraculously lasted eight days (when new consecrated oil was ready).
The first Thanksgiving in what would become the United States, is believed to have been celebrated in 1621 in Plymouth, between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans as a way to give thanks for a good harvest. It started to be celebrated as an official holiday in 1863 and was designated the fourth Thursday of November in 1941.
Rabbi Robert S. Goldstein said there are similarities between Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, that make the dovetailing of the two holidays particularly apt.
“The pilgrims came to our shore to worship as they saw fit and the Macabees took back the temple to express themselves and worship what they believed,” Goldstein said. “As Jews, when we converge at Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, it represents the two aspects of who we are in America.”
Other spiritual leaders like Elizabeth Beraha of Congregation Anshe Sholum in Lawrence does not see Thanksgiving and Hanukkah separately.
“Both come from a holiday of gratitude and have an overlapping message,” Beraha said. “I love this occurrence.”
Having Thanksgiving and Hanukkah on the same day has also left its mark on pop culture. It’s led to the coining of phrases like “Gobble Tov” and “Thanksgivukkah,” as well as turkey-shaped menorahs and plates bearing turkeys sporting Stars of David.
Having both holidays fall on the same day can present a problem for those who are hosting dinners, but not for Greenstein.
“I’ve never been challenged to do this before, but it’s really a labor of love,” he said.
Greenstein and his wife, Zelma, who bakes pies and other desserts, will have an international feast at their home featuring foods from Russia, Uruguay and the U.S. He will smoke four turkeys and roast one bird with a dry rub.
Greenstein has a wealth of cooking experience under his belt, including stints as the featured chef on Boston’s “Good Day Show” for 14 years and as a culinary research consultant for the Mrs. Fields baking show on PBS.
“The meaning of both is to bring people together, and what it does for us is give us an opportunity to explain to people who don’t know the significance of the candles, the dreidel games (and) the gelts (gold coins),” Greenstein said.
Kara Liberman of North Andover will remain more traditional as she celebrates each holiday today with family. Liberman, her husband Max and boys Matthew, 3 and Joshua, 5 will enjoy turkey with all the fixings with their relatives. After sundown, they will light the second candle on the menorah, eat latkes and play the dreidel game.
“I’m not going to mix the two; I prefer to stay traditional,” said Liberman, whose family attends Temple Emanuel in Andover. “I think that if we don’t teach them about our culture and faith, they’re never going to get it.”
At Havurat Shalom in Andover most members are interfaith couples who usually have to deal with celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, said Rabbi Karen Landy.
“In both cases, there is the element of joy and miracles,” Landy said. “Both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are the stories of people who had enough faith and belief in God that they overcome great odds, escaping persecution of religion and somehow survived.”
Rabbi Osher Bronstein, spiritual leader of Chabad Lubavitch of Merrimack Valley in Andover is using the convergence of the two holidays as a teaching tool for his eight children.
“Every day there is something new and exciting that we have to be thankful for,” Bronstein said. “Both Jews and non-Jews can find ways to thank the Almighty for all the miracles we receive.”