By Belmont Patch Columnist Lisa Gibalerio
I’m grateful for Thanksgivukkah. For the first time in over 100 years, two holidays that I seem to know only a little about are merged together.
I’m not proud of my ignorance, mind you. But on the other hand, humility doesn’t make me any less ignorant. So, as I was procrastinating writing this column for fear that I would display my lack of knowledge, I decided to call a friend, who happens to be Jewish, to see if she could fill in some of the gaps in my Hanukkah knowledge.
“Here is what I know,” I told her, “Hanukkah is . . . a festival of lights. (Thank you, Adam Sandler.) It celebrates the fact that some mysterious supply of oil lasted for eight nights, instead of one night. It is marked with the lighting of candles on a menorah, one lit for each of the eight nights that the oil lasted. Gifts are given, latkes are eaten, and there is something about spinning a dreidel.”
“That’s all you need to know,” my friend replied. “It’s not really a major holiday for Jews. Somewhere along the line, its status got elevated because it often coincides with Christmas.”
Well, that was a relief and much less traumatic than my Thanksgiving edification, which has been slow and painful. In fact, learning the truth about Thanksgiving was more disturbing for me, as a kid, than learning the truth about Santa Claus.
For starters, let’s face it, the Santa Claus story doesn’t make much sense. The flying reindeer and presents for all the children of the world, in just one night, seemed both overly ambitious and far-fetched to me, even as a youngster. Also, it never jibed with the Jesus story. I couldn’t reconcile that one holiday had two vastly different and competing themes.
But the Thanksgiving story, the one we teach little kids, did make sense, right from the start. It’s a heartwarming piece of history, or so I thought. The Pilgrims and Native Americans putting aside their differences, sitting down together to share their harvests and offer thanks. Except that almost nothing I learned about Thanksgiving quite matches what actually happened in history.
Sometime around middle-school, the myths surrounding Thanksgiving-as-I-knew-it began to be debunked. I remember my sister suggesting to my mother over dinner that for just one year, we should try to eat what the Pilgrims and Native Americans actually ate.
I recall pausing incredulously, forkful in hand, and looking at my plate of turkey, stuffing, creamed onions, and sweet potatoes.
I wondered aloud, “So, what did they really eat?”
Deer, clams, lobster, nuts, possibly foul, and whatever vegetables they had managed to grow that year, was my sister’s hypothesis.
I’m guessing there was no pumpkin pie for dessert either.
Years later, more shocking revelations were to follow. A college friend of mine let slip that the first Thanksgiving was possibly held in Texas, sometime in the late 1500s, but more likely held in Virginia somewhere in the early 1600s.
Bewildered yet again, I asked: “So, what about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock?”
“Well,” he said, “something like that probably happened, but not necessarily in Plymouth, not in November, and not the way it’s taught in grade school.”
Why, I was left wondering, did everything I had been taught about Thanksgiving seem to be false? Why write books with made-up stories and pass them off as history? And what else had I learned as a kid had almost no basis in history? Did the revolutionaries really toss tea into the Boston Harbor as an act of protest? Was the Great Depression of the 1930s really caused by a stock market crash in 1929? Did we actually land on the moon? Who really shot J.R.?
I could go on and on, but I have to focus on Thanksgivukkah, as it comes with its own challenges. Namely that my little menorah is buried deep within the same box as the Christmas decorations, so I have to get up to the attic pronto!
To all of you, my fondest wishes for a joyful holiday. Give thanks this Thursday. Have a full turkey dinner each day for the next eight days that follow. And use the drippings to “keep the home fires burning.”
Or something like that.
Oh, and note to self: in November 2070, keep the menorah in the Thanksgiving box, not with the Christmas decorations. You’ll be grateful you did.