'Thanksgivukkah' poses possibilities, problems for Beaufort County Jewish families

loberle@islandpacket.comNovember 23, 2013 

In the Mastrocoo house, Hanukkah calls for a modest celebration.

Every evening they'll light the candles on the Menorah together, just the five of them -- Rebecca, Matthew and their three children. They might have a few families over for a party one night to make Hanukkah foods, such as latkas and kugel, and play the traditional Jewish dreidel game.

The Mastrocoos are an interfaith family. Rebecca is Jewish; Matthew is Catholic. Their children -- Jack, 10, Ellie, 8, and Dory, 5 -- are being raised Jewish.

This year, when Matthew's brother, sister-in-law and their two children travel from Pittsburgh to Hilton Head Island for Thanksgiving, Matthew's Catholic family is going to get a rare taste of Judaism. The first full day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving land on the same day: Nov. 28.

"We talk to our Catholic family about our Jewish holidays, but they don't ever get to experience it," Rebecca Mastrocoo said. "They were really excited to know that they would be here for Hanukkah. They appreciate getting to know our religious traditions."

Dubbed "Thanksgivukkah," the historic holiday overlap is happening for the first time since 1888, and won't happen again for 70,000 years. This collision of secular and sacred holidays presents both problems and possibilities for Jewish-American families.

For Hilton Head resident Marcia Frezza, Thanksgivukkah means she'll get to spend both holidays with her grandchildren.

"Often we get together for one or the other, but this year we're making a special effort to be together," Frezza said.

At Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head, Hanukkah celebrations were rearranged since many families travel for Thanksgiving. The Hanukkah Bazaar was held Nov. 3, and the religious school held its Hanukkah party on Nov. 17 -- both before Hanukkah began.

"At the synagogue, it's a mixed bag," said Rabbi Brad Bloom. "It's not really Hanukkah we had it on, but we're still trying to give the children a feel for the holiday."

Sherri Lanunziata, the activities director at Indigo Pines, an independent senior living community on Hilton Head, said she didn't adjust holiday celebrations for the residents, but does feel there is shortened time to celebrate both.

"The holiday is a little funky falling early," Lanunziata said. "You try to enjoy one holiday, and you're mashing two into one. You're not getting that full separation, but you make it work."

Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev, the ninth month on the Hebrew calendar, which falls in December or late November on the standard Gregorian calendar. Similar to Christmas, the celebration of Hanukkah begins on the eve of its first day, meaning the holiday starts Nov. 27 this year.

"The nice thing about Hanukkah is that it actually starts the night before (Thanksgiving)," Lanunziata said. "Because of that, it still gives it its individuality."

Although a minor religious holiday, Hanukkah has become the most celebrated Jewish holiday in America, largely due to its proximity to Christmas.

"It does not have the same standing, theologically speaking, as the High Holy Days or Passover," Bloom said. "Growing up, Hanukkah was never raised to the level it is today, which is almost like an American Christmas. Its exposure has dramatically increased."

Gifts are typically given each night of Hanukkah. Since it falls before Black Friday this year, Jews will miss out on some big holiday sales.

"With so many Hanukkah gifts to purchase for three kids, it'll be a larger expense this year," Rebecca Mastrocoo said.

"Thanksgivukkah" succeeds "Chrismukkah," a term popularized by "The O.C." TV series in 2004. Character Seth Cohen created that holiday to signify the convergence of the religious holidays of his Jewish father and Christian mother.

Dana Gitell, a marketing specialist in the Boston area, coined the term "Thanksgivukkah." She had the term trademarked and created a "Thanksgivukkah" Facebook page and Twitter account. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino even proclaimed Nov. 28 "Thanksgivukkah Day" in the city.

"This is a kind of crazy mathematical computation where two holidays come together, like a meteor," Bloom said. "What does it ultimately mean? What you ascribe to it. That's what it means."

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