While it’s not the Thanksgivukkah of 2013 which brought so many great culinary mash-ups and the menurkey, this year’s Thanksgiving-Hanukkah weekend convergence offers an opportunity to make connections between the two holidays.
When we think of Hanukkah’s big ideas — miracles, courage, freedom — it could feel like gratitude is an add-on, a forced connection because of the timing of the Western calendar and our Jewish lunar calendar.
But because gratitude is so central to Jewish spirituality and practice, it’s actually a natural connection. We’re part of a tradition that instructs us to say the Modeh Ani prayer as the first words that come out of our mouths each day — thanking God for another day of being alive. Saying blessings is another integral Jewish gratitude practice that can remind us of the sacredness in everyday moments.
And so when we think of Hanukkah and gratitude, the possibilities for connections are rich. We can be grateful that we have the freedom to be Jewish and to celebrate Hanukkah. We can be grateful for the miracles in our own lives. We can be grateful for the courage of our ancestors who created and shared a holiday rich with culinary and family traditions — that we can expand with our own additions.
Starting with your Thanksgiving celebration, there are lots of ways to infuse new practices into your Hanukkah. Here are eight ways for the eight nights to get you started.
1. Hanukkah gratitude jar: Creating a gratitude jar is a fun and easy way to capture what your family is feeling grateful for in a certain period of time. All you need is a mason jar, some strips of paper and something to write with. After you light candles, invite family members to write one thing that they’re grateful for and place in the jar. On the last night of Hanukkah, after adding your contributions, dump out the jar and read them together. Another fun Hanukkah variation would be to write as many things as the night of Hanukkah it is (i.e. on the third night, share three things that you’re thankful for).
2. Thank you cards for teachers: We know that teachers more than ever need some TLC! While gifts are always appreciated, handwritten notes make an impact, too. Encourage your kiddos to list the things that they appreciate about their teachers. Pictures from little ones are great, too!
3. Read all about it: There are so many wonderful Hanukkah books out there now — thought my favorite of all time is still “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.” This year, mix in some children’s books about gratitude with your Hanukkah collection. PJ Library has this great list to start from.
4. Make treats for helpers: If you’re making a batch of Hanukkah cookies or sufganiyot (jelly donuts), make an extra batch for the first responders in your neighborhood. Involve your kids in the cooking process and talk with them about the important role that helpers play.
5. Saying blessings: If saying blessings before meals isn’t part of your family’s ritual, Hanukkah is a lovely time to try it. You can use the traditional Jewish blessings for food and/or take a moment to thank whoever has cooked the meal. Connecting the food that we eat to gratitude is also a way to talk with kids about where our food comes from. Author A.J. Jacobs’ book “Thanks A Thousand” is an amazing read for adults about the search to thank every person who makes a single cup of coffee possible that can inspire these conversations.
6. Tzedakah: Many families dedicate a night of Hanukkah to giving to tzedakah, or charity. It’s never too young to involve children in sharing their ideas about causes that they are passionate about and ideas for how they would like to allocate tzedakah money.
7. Gratitude place cards: This is another fun idea that I learned about recently. If you are having a Hanukkah gathering this year (with COVID rates as they are, I know that is not a given), encourage kids to write/draw a placecard with your guests’ name and something that they are thankful for about that person (i.e. for Bubbe, I am thankful for the way you always read stories to me). If you’re not having guests outside of your immediate family, this can still be an engaging way to help siblings stretch to offer appreciation of one another!
8. Toast: L’chaim, to life! When we clink glasses, we take a moment to celebrate, to pause and acknowledge our gratitude for our lives. During Hanukkah, what if you took a moment for a L’chaim every night? This ritual doesn’t need alcohol; sparkling juices and ciders transform an ordinary dinner into a special one. Invite different family members to offer the Hanukkah toast
Maybe your family will create a ritual to continue for next Hanukkah, even without the Thanksgiving convergence.