Oct. 11, 2013 at 7:08 AM ET
In a once-in-a-lifetime convergence of calendars, Chanukah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day this year. But rather than choose between which holiday to celebrate, some families are saying "more please" to both. That means sweet potato latkes and challah-stuffed turkey is getting served up beside a cornucopia overflowing with chocolate gelt, lit by the flickering of a turkey-shaped menorah.
Because the Jewish and Gregorian calendars aren't calculated the same way, Chanukah shows up at different times each year. Usually the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights happens in December, but this year, it falls on Turkey Day. The convergence has only happened once before, in 1888, and won't be seen again until 2070 and again in 2165, according to calculations by Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. After that, the two holidays aren't set to overlap until 76,695.
So if you ever wondered what turkey would taste like if it had a little more "schmaltz" — rendered chicken fat, a staple of traditional Jewish cuisine — this is the year.
Trish Meyers, a 41-year old stay-at-home mom in Brandon, Fla., already has in mind to put together eight turkey-shaped tapers in her house to create a crossover menorah. She was brought up Christian and her husband is Jewish. Normally the Meyers and their two daughters, 12 and 19, observe Chanukah at home, and then visit family for Thanksgiving. This year, they're hosting both for all 20 guests. It will be the first time Trish's side of the family has experienced a Chanukah celebration.
Besides dreidel spinning and songs, bourbon sweet potato kugel, cranberry brisket sliders and challah-stuffed turkey are on order, combining cuisines from both menus into single dishes.
Meyers sees the stories of the Maccabees and Pilgrims as natural compliments.
"They were both being religiously persecuted," she said, "both celebrate overcoming a struggle ... and being thankful."
Not to mention, "both involve an incredible amount of food," said Scott Goldshine, general manager of Zabar's specialty Jewish and luxury food store. The combined demand will definitely leave his workers tired at the end of the week, he said. "We've been discussing the whole thing for months, everyone is concerned."
In the kitchen at Kutsher's Tribeca in New York City, flames sprang over pan-fried turkey and a sous-chef ladled schmaltz on chopped challah stuffing. Owner Zach Kutsher said dinner reservations are already filling the books for its special "Thanksgivukkah" menu. The three-course meal features sliced turkey and brisket, sweet potato latkes with sour cream and cranberry compote, pumpkin shlishkes, cranberry-raspberry jelly-filled sufganiyot with chocolate "gelt" sauce, cheesy spaetzle kugel, and challah chestnut stuffing.
Instead of individual composed plates, the dishes will be served family style, said Kutsher, to encourage his diners to say, "Oh, can you pass this," just like at home.
Food purveyors aren't the only ones getting in on the entrepreneurial action surrounding the holiday combo.
A 9-year-old boy from New York City invented the "Menurkey" and raised $48,000 on Kickstarter to get production going for his Turkey-shaped menorah. There's also greeting cards, posters, and a Woodstock-inspired T-shirt featuring a turkey on a guitar neck proclaiming "8 Days of Light, Liberty, & Latkes."
Synagogues are also joining in the fun. At the Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, Cantor Tifani Coyot is writing "Hanukkahgiving" mashups for the choir to sing the Friday night after Thanksgiving, mixing together lyrics between traditional Jewish songs and spirituals that have a theme of giving thanks.
"We're trying to bring in some themes of gratitude and giving thanks into the Shabbat service Friday night and combine the values of both holidays," said Coyot.
However, the combined celebration poses the threat of a jam for businesses trying to accommodate both holidays.
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said the day before Thanksgiving is usually their busiest day of travel, which is also the start of the eight nights of Chanukah. "We encourage those who are planning on using Amtrak for the Thanksgiving/Chanukah holidays to reserve their seats well in advance of their departure dates," said Cole.
Families looking to save travel hassle might be well advised to leave that Tuesday, said Tom Parsons, CEO of bestfares.com. For those flying, leaving the Monday before and coming back the following week on a Tuesday you'll find the lowest fares and fewest crowds.
Meanwhile, Goldshine said his customers at Zabar's have been peppering him with questions about how the store will handle serving both celebrations at once.
"They're all nervous. 'Are you going to do one or the other?' We're going to do them both," said Goldshine. "It's a great week for us — and a terrible week."