Thanksgivukkah: How One Boise Family Is Celebrating This Rare Holiday Mash-Up

Nov 27, 2013

You’ll find menorahs all over Dorothy Geffon’s immaculate Boise home. These candelabras are the symbol of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Each night of the eight-day festival, Jews light one candle or oil-light. Some of Geffon’s menorahs are traditional. Others…not so much.

Take the wind-up one that hops around on little plastic legs. “This I have for the little kids,” she says. “It’s fun for the youngest grandchildren.”

This year, for the first time, her Hanukkah decorations are mixed with her Thanksgiving ones. That’s because this year, the first full day of Hanukkah is on Thanksgiving. The last time that happened was in 1888.

Traditional Hanukkah decorations are mixed with Thanksgiving decor at the Geffon house.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Dorothy’s husband Marty Geffon says they’ve had a few months to get used to the idea of what’s being called Thanksgivukkah.

“It was sometime during the year when someone said ‘when’s the first night of Hanukkah this year?’” he says. “And we looked at it and we said ‘no that can’t be right. That’s Thanksgiving.’”  

The Geffon dining room table has two center pieces this year, one turkey and one Star of David. For American Jews, both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are important. Dan Fink is the Rabbi at Boise’s Ahavath Beth Israel Synagogue. He says the two holidays work well together. 

“Thank goodness it isn’t Yom Kippur. That’s a fast day, it would be a real problem,” Fink says. “But Hanukkah is all about gratitude. And being given the liberty to observe our own religious tradition in accordance with our own conscience. That’s so in keeping with the message of Thanksgiving.”

Hanukkah commemorates things that happened 2,200 years ago. The Jews were ruled by a foreign king who put statues of Greek gods in their temple in Jerusalem. They saw that as a desecration of their most holy place. Hanukkah celebrates the revolt that kicked out the king and the subsequent rededication of the temple. Religiously, it’s a minor holiday, but its popularity as a family celebration has been steadily growing among American Jews for decades.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, has been around just 150 years. Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Its popularity has also grown since it was created.  

Fink says Hanukkah moves around because of how the traditional Jewish lunar calendar syncs with the contemporary solar calendar. Since Thanksgiving also moves a bit, the conditions that bring them together are rare.

A full day of Hanukkah won’t come on Thanksgiving again for more than 77,000 years. But Jewish days begin at sundown, and in 2070 the first night of Hanukkah will begin just after the last bite of turkey gets eaten. Fink is glad he gets to see a year when they correspond.

“I’ve had people ask ‘is this going to water down Hanukkah? Is it going to water down Thanksgiving?’ I don’t see it that way at all,” Fink says. “I think it just adds a level of richness each to the other.”

Marty Geffon agrees.

“The lighting of the menorah is kind of showing a light to the coming seasons,” Geffon says. “And Thanksgiving is the bounty that you’re having now, and then replanting and doing it all over again. I love it. I wish it would be every year.”

Marty and Dorothy Geffon showing off one of their favorite Menorahs from Dorothy's collection. It's made with mahjong tiles, a game she loves to play.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The symbolism is not the main reason the Geffons wish Thanksgivukkah were every year. They have two kids and two grandkids in Boise who they see all throughout Hanukkah. And their son who lives in California always comes for Thanksgiving, but Dorothy says they’ve never spent Hanukkah with the California grandchildren.  

“They’ll get to go to the synagogue with us on Friday night,” she says. “So that’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Dorothy says in the 34 years they’ve been in Boise she’s sometimes missed New York during Hanukkah. She grew up there and her extended family is there. Holidays can seem lonely in Idaho where just a tiny fraction (.1 percent) of the population is Jewish. But she says having her grandchildren here makes up for it.

She has a menorah for each of the older grandchildren to light and a cartoon one with light bulbs for the youngest.

“I have a three-year-old grandson that’s coming so I thought this one would be fun,” she says while pushing a button that makes the menorah play a tinny version of a traditional Hanukkah song.

Hanukkah isn’t just about decorating for Dorothy. She’s also known for her holiday cooking. This year many people are trying to bring a Thanksgiving flair to Hanukkah foods, like using sweet potatoes in the traditional potato pancakes known as latkes.

Dorothy won’t be infusing her Hanukkah food with Thanksgiving flavors. But she says she always makes some traditional Jewish dishes for her Thanksgiving feast. So on Thursday, chicken soup with matzo balls will share space with the turkey on the Geffon table.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio