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The One and Only Thanksgivukkah

It's being called a once-in-an-eternity event: the convergence this week of the American holiday of Thanksgiving with the first day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. It's the first time it's happened since 1888, and it won't occur again until the year 79,811, according to one scientist's calculation. And Thanksgiving plus Hanukkah equals opportunity for marketers and wordsmiths alike, for whom the brand-new holiday dubbed "Thanksgivukkah" is a bonanza of merchandising... and wordplay.

Perplexed? Here's a little background: Judaism follows a lunar calendar, so holidays' dates move around on the Gregorian, or solar, calendar. Hanukkah, an eight-day festival of lights that commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE, begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which can fall anywhere from late November to mid-December. (Jewish holidays begin at sundown, so the first Hanukkah candle will be lit on November 27 and the second on November 28, Thanksgiving Day.)

American Thanksgiving, which loosely commemorates a 1621 harvest celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts, wasn't standardized on the calendar until 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed the date as the final Thursday in November. In 1939, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday in November to bolster retail sales; after an initial uproar, with some states sticking to the "Republican" Thanksgiving over the Democratic "Franksgiving," Congress in 1941 made FDR's change official.

Thanksgivukkah has a more straightforward origin story that, like the original Thanksgiving, starts in Massachusetts. In 2011, Dana Gitell, a marketing specialist in the Boston area, noticed the holidays' overlap on a five-year Jewish calendar. On November 15, 2012, she created the Thanksgivukkah Facebook page; a couple of weeks later she filed for trademark protection of "Thanksgivukkah." (According to a story in the Boston Globe, Gitell briefly considered "Hanukkahgiving" until "the more melodious Thanksgivukkah came to her." A story in Time credits Gitell with "Hanugiving" as well.) With an artist friend, Gitell created a line of T-shirts and gifts that are sold through the Judaica website Modern Tribe, with a portion of the proceeds donated to a charity.


"American Gothikkah" poster, a parody of Grant Wood's 1930 painting.


A Thanksgivukkah T-shirt — "8 Days of Light, Liberty & Latkes" — spoofs the 1969
Woodstock poster. Latkes are potato pancakes traditionally eaten during Hanukkah.

A few independent souls have promoted alternate renditions of the holiday, including Turkukkah (a spelling that looks vaguely Finnish) and Chanukksgiving. The 125-year-old Manishewitz Company, the largest manufacturer of kosher foods in the United States, spells it Thanksgivukah and is spending at least $2.5 million on a marketing campaign that includes "fusion" recipes (and a recipe contest), e-greetings, and an e-mail push. The single-K spelling reflects "an alternative English-language spelling, Chanukah," according to a New York Times article.

A very young entrepreneur, 9-year-old Asher Weintraub of New York City, saw "Thanksgivukkah" and created another blended word and the product to go with it: the Menurkey™, a menorah (Hanukkah candelabrum) shaped like a turkey. (Yes, Asher, or more likely his parents, filed for trademark protection.) Someone else decided that the candle-holder should be called a Turkorah. The blended holiday has also inspired gastronomic blends like the "Thanksgivukutlets" on Manishewitz's website and the Challurkey (pronounced with a guttural ch), a turkey-shped pull-apart challah (Jewish egg bread) introduced by Bibi's Bakery & Café in Los Angeles. The Challurkey proved so popular that the bakery stopped taking orders a week after it announced the product. (Shades of the cronut!)

The Thanksgivukkah food blends follow a by-now-venerable Thanksgiving tradition of invention: We've had turducken, turbaconducken, veggieducken, and cherpumple around for several Thanksgivings now. But the Jewish angle may revive interest in a portmanteau food introduced in the TV comedy "The Big Bang Theory." In the episode, which aired in 2009, the Jewish character Howard tells the gang he can't join them for Thanksgiving because his mother always invites the relatives and cooks "tur-briska-fil" – turkey stuffed with brisket stuffed with gefilte fish. "It's not as good as it sounds," Howard cautions.

While Thanksgivukkah is a recent neologism, the combined-observance concept is familiar by now. Other Thanksgiving variations have included Friendsgiving (a Thanksgiving celebration sans family, documented as early as 2004) and Planksgiving, which is either a month-long fitness challenge (perform as many "plank" positions as you can) or a holiday invented by the writers of the TV show "Hart of Dixie" in which residents of the fictional town of Bluebell, Alabama, dress up as pirates.

A few years ago I wrote about Chrisumukkah, Chrismahanukwanzakah, and other invented winter holidays; last month I caught a reference to Diwaloween, a blend of the Hindu holiday of Diwali and Halloween, which occurred close together this year. There's also "Falloween," which, Word Spy tells us, "unites the words fall and Halloween to recognize the lengths to which many people now go to celebrate the latter." The online coupon site RetailMeNot coined OctoNovemCember for approximately the same reason. November is also "Movember," when men grow facial hair to raise awareness of prostate cancer. In a column published earlier this year, Ben Zimmer observed that "September through December seem to lend themselves to creative blending, perhaps because the names form a prosodic pattern."

The -ukkah suffix isn't quite as cooperative, but that hasn't discouraged at least one intrepid neologizer. Writing for Slate, Ben Blatt offered "a handy guide to future Hanukkah overlaps," from the obvious Chrismukkah (occurring in 2016) to the more arcane Mardi Granukkah (Mardi Gras plus Hanukkah; February 7, 10632), Valentinukkah's Day (in the year 11506), and April Foolsukkah (in 22203).

Here in 2013, Thanksgivukkah's uniqueness seems to have inspired a heaping helping of creativity, much of it bilingual as well as bicultural. Don't be surprised to hear the occasional "Gobble tov!" — a pun on the Jewish greeting mazel tov — or even some painful puns on the order of "a day we'll never relivukkah." It's all in good fun — and, for Americans, a chance to enjoy two celebrations of gratitude in a single week. Pass the latkes and cranberry sauce ... and start stuffing that tur-briska-fil.


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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday November 26th 2013, 8:23 PM
Comment by: Michael Lydon (New York, NY)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Our daughter tells us that she made up this name for Thanksgiving this year: THANKSALATKE. Pretty cool, we think. Anybody else come up with that?
Tuesday November 26th 2013, 10:09 PM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
Michael: Pretty cool, indeed! I haven't heard that one -- and I thought I'd heard them all.

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