Combining Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and December birthday celebrations for the ultimate unique family dinner.
In this series, Holiday Traditions, we asked clinicians to share their favorite holiday traditions from both past and present. Here’s how they answered.
All families have traditions regarding the celebration of birthdays and holidays. When I was growing up, my birthday and one of my sister’s birthdays were always celebrated together, as our birthdays were 3 days apart. As our birthdays fell during the Hanukkah/Christmas season, the celebration was combined into the holiday get-together. My sister once remarked that she would love to have a birthday cake with only her name on it, and that it would not be a Carvel birthday cake (which was my preference, and still is).
As the years went by and family no longer all lived relatively nearby, finding a time to celebrate holidays became increasingly difficult. We lived in different states, had different school or work commitments, and had children of our own.
Trying to arrange a gathering for the “big” holidays and the birthdays became a challenge, resulting in requests for planning months in advance. Who would have to travel was the most complex of the elements. Often there was no mutually convenient time to get together, so celebration of holidays that were accompanied by traditional meals might not be held on the “official” calendar date.
One compromise was the celebration of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and the December birthdays over a chosen weekend. That typically meant moving Hanukkah into Thanksgiving, with the addition of birthday cakes and gifts.
It was a family joke that these 2 particular holidays were combined. Roast turkey was accompanied by the traditional side dishes, and desserts of course, but latkes were frequently on the menu. Decorations might include both holidays as well as “happy birthday” banners.
Given that Thanksgiving was a holiday that everyone had “off,” but Hanukkah was not an official national holiday, the fourth Thursday in November was reliable, and the Friday was typically a day off for everyone. The exact date varied, as the fourth Thursday could be anywhere from the 22nd to the 28th.
There were complaints, of course, and we all often celebrated Hanukkah locally. The celebration of Hanukkah occurs in the month of Kislev and is based on the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar calendar—thus the month and days of the holiday very considerably in a Gregorian, or solar, calendar. Christmas is always on December 25, but Hanukkah could start in November or December.
In 2013, the 2 holidays coincided for the first time. I think the prior simultaneous occurrence of the fourth Thursday in November and the first day of Hanukkah was in 1861, before Thanksgiving became a national holiday—thus the fourth Thursday of November 2013 was also the start of Hanukkah.
Our families came together for a celebration with both turkey and latkes appropriately sharing space on the table. One of our family members noted that “The Muskins have finally bent the universe to their will.” I am not sure of the math, but the 2 holidays will be close—but not exactly—together again in 2165. Nevertheless, I hope to see everyone at dinner.
Dr Muskin is a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and senior consultant in Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry at NYPH-Milstein Hospital.
Do you have a favorite tradition or activity that you enjoy with your loved ones during the holidays? If so, write to us at PTEditor@MMHGroup.com for a chance to be featured in our Holiday Traditions series.