On Thanksgiving, Sharon Brown, of Walnut Creek, and her family will be serving a holiday meal with some unusual trimmings -- menorahs, dreidels, even a few gifts.

In an extraordinarily rare juxtaposition, Turkey Day coincides with the second night of Hanukkah this year -- setting up Jewish families across the country for an unprecedented holiday overload.

For the Brown family, that means a feast of turkey and latkes in a San Leandro home where cornucopia brim with fall leaves, dreidels and gelt. After they light their menorahs, chant the Hanukkah blessing and exchange gifts, the hosts -- Brown's sister and brother-in-law -- will lead the family's annual Thanksgiving tradition in which they share with the group what they are most thankful for.

Cara Vainish is photographed in her kitchen in Sunnyvale, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013.  (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)
Cara Vainish is photographed in her kitchen in Sunnyvale, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) ( LiPo Ching )

"We are calling the day 'Thanks for Hanukkah' or 'Thanks a latke,'" Brown says. "It makes sense to celebrate two holidays together that both speak to freedom and new possibilities. And since this isn't going to happen again for a really long time, we're going all out."

Jewish families in the Bay Area have been buzzing about Thanksgivukkah since Manischewitz coined the term last month, and visions of fried pumpkin doughnuts began dancing in our heads. But Thanksgiving and Hanukkah share much more than food and the Nov. 28 spot on this year's calendar, the first overlap of the two holidays since 1918. Both iconic holidays are steeped in family, history and customs, including rich oral traditions that Bay Area families plan to honor in their celebrations, from retelling the story of the Maccabean Revolt in 165 B.C. to giving public thanks for their blessings.


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Even in the Talmud, a central text of Judaism, the meaning of the Hanukkah celebration evokes thoughts of Thanksgiving, says Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of Chabad of the Tri Valley.

"It says that we celebrate Hanukkah to remember the story of the victory of light over darkness and to praise God and give thanks," Resnick says. "Both are narratives about freedom from religious oppression."

Hanukkah's calendar distance from Christmas this year also is significant, he says.

"There's no December dilemma this year," he noted, referring to the tension some Jews feel when Christmas draws near and overshadows Hanukkah. "People often feel they have to choose between their Jewish identity and secular identity as an American. I think this allows Jews to focus on Hanukkah being Hanukkah, and not about shopping and presents. It's a beautiful thing."

On Thursday, many Bay Area families plan to practice some combination of holiday rituals: They will light the menorah, or hanukkiyah, while saying the holiday's Hebrew prayer; retell the miraculous story of how a one-day supply of oil kept the Second Temple in Jerusalem lit for eight days; and feast on fried foods and a big turkey dinner while sharing what they are thankful for.

Cara Vainish, of Sunnyvale, is grateful that Hanukkah falls on a national holiday because it means that all three of her children will have the day off from school.

"As Jews, we never have a set day for our holidays," she says, referring to the ever-changing Hebrew calendar, which varies with phases of the moon. "Some come early. Some come late."

Vainish is decorating her home with twinkling blue lights and pilgrim statues; turkey place mats will be topped with rugelach and menorahs. As is their Thanksgiving tradition, family and friends will gather early for wine and appetizers while the children play -- this time, most likely spinning dreidels -- in the basement.

At dinner, while indulging in a 20-pound turkey roasted in the outdoor pizza oven, they will tell funny stories of Thanksgivings past, like the year when the dog ran off with the whole turkey in his mouth or how a bad polish of the silverware once left everyone with black hands after dinner.

"Both holidays are a magical time to be with family and friends, and I just love that," Vainish says.

Shoshana Ohriner, of Saratoga, a conservative rabbi and mother of three, loves that she will have all day to prepare her Thanksgiving meal, as opposed to shabbat or the High Holidays, when observant Jews do not work or use electricity after sundown.

"It will be more relaxing," she says, laughing. "I don't think most people would describe Thanksgiving that way."

Ultimately, combining the two is not such a stretch, Ohriner says, because both holidays are about commemorating bounty.

"With Hanukkah, you're celebrating the miracle of the oil and the plentiful nature of that oil, and Thanksgiving you're celebrating the plentiful nature of the harvest," she says. "Both are a time to stop and give thanks for the things we have in our lives."

Follow Jessica Yadegaran at Twitter.com/swirlgirl_jy.

WHEN will it happen again?

Chabad.org tracks the convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving dating back to 1888. However, if you notice from the organization's chart, the dates are getting further apart. According to the website, the Gregorian calendar and the Jewish calendar are slowly drifting in relation to the actual solar year -- but at different rates. After 2165, Hanukkah will drift out of November unless one of these calendars is changed.
Nov. 29, 1888 and Kislev 25, 5649 (second night of Hanukkah)
Nov. 30, 1899 (sixth night of Hanukkah)
Nov. 28, 1918 (first night of Hanukkah)
Nov. 28, 2013 (second night of Hanukkah)
Nov. 27, 2070 (theoretically, first night of Hanukkah)
Nov. 28, 2165 (theoretically, first night of Hanukkah)

-- Jessica Yadegaran