The Secret, Sordid History of Thanksgivukkah

Over the past few weeks, politicians, comedians, and the lamestream media have joined in what can only be referred to as The Shandah of the 21st Century:  the trenchant desecration of the sacred holy day of Thansgivukkah.

In case you missed the Stephen Colbert satire, the Bostonian turkey-shaped menorah, or even the Presidential shout-out; millions of Americans have been exposed to the rare and historic confluence of Thanksgiving and Chanukkah with snide laughter and tweeted snarkery, treating Thanksgivukkah as just some ironic day of mock-celebration — akin to The O.C.‘s lame interfaith mashup, “Christmukkah,” or the brilliant, yet secular Frank Costanza inspiration of “Festivus.”

Indeed, while Thanksgivukkah has been only celebrated formally twice before in our nation’s history — in those extraordinarily rare cases in which a late November fourth Thursday coincided with an early winter Hebrew lunar calendar — the holiday once served as an integral thread that wove together the Jewish and American fabrics.

And yet, there is a dark, forgotten undercurrent to this Festival of Turkey Light.

I’m here to set the record straight and remind my fellow Jews and my fellow Americans of the secret, sordid history of the holiday of Thanksgivukkah:

NOVEMBER 1621

Shecky Howard

In a global conspiracy rivaled only by the fake Moon landing, the coverup of Paul McCartney’s death and the transparently fabricated long-form birth certificate of our Kenyan-born President, the anti-Semitic textbook industry has scrubbed all records of America’s first Jewish citizen, Shecky Howard.

Escaping religious persecution as a Jew in late 16th century Europe, Shecky pretended to convert to Christianity, and chose the faith with which he seemed most comfortable — the big black hats, mother-inspired guilt-trips, and  victimization of Separatist Puritanism.

OK, not a great choice for a guy fleeing religious persecution…

But Shecky made the best of a bad situation.  And after serving as the mohel, pediatrist and the stand-up entertainer on the Mayflower (Sample joke:  “Take my wife’s apron…please!), Shecky was primarily responsible for the early peaceful entente reached among the Pilgrims and Native Americans in Plymouth, after he quietly confided to the Indian leadership that he too was a Member of the Tribe.  Perhaps most poignantly, the Puri-Jew Shecky convinced both sides that turkey was the appropriate protein of choice (and carved the first bird with his circumcision tools), by arguing that pork chops would be inappropriate…because…uh…well…applesauce hadn’t been invented yet.

NOVEMBER 1863

The official American holiday of Thanksgiving was first declared in 1862 by our first Jew-ish President, Abraham Lincoln.

(OK, I said Jew-ish, not Jewish.  Read the difference here and consider his black hat and beard, his über-protective wife, his passion for minority civil rights, his Kentucky birthplace (we’re all Jewish here), and most of all, HIS NAME WAS ABRAHAM, FOR MOSES’ SAKE!)

It’s no wonder, then, when the second official Thanksgiving coincided with Chanukkah, Lincoln invited Shecky Howard’s great-great-great grandson Mordechai to officiate the very first Thanksgivukkah ceremony at the White House.

And it was then that the Thanksgiving dinner as we now know it took formal shape — a family event loaded with Jewish influence — mothers insisting that their children eat every last morsel of food (THINK OF THE STARVING CHILDREN IN AFRICA!); participants guilted to travel long distances to spend agonizing hours in cramped quarters with their neurotic extended families; even the dreaded cardboard folding Kids’ Tables, a remnant of overcrowded Passover seders.

The Black Friday shopping tradition arose from the rush to purchase Chanukkah gifts before the Jewish Sabbath began that evening. And most significantly, the modern mythical ethic of Thanksgiving — the Pilgrims’ supposed quest for religious freedom — was lifted by one of Rand Paul’s ancestors directly from the story of Chanukkah’s brave Maccabees:  Archeological evidence recently revealed that the Mayflower was actually a Gilligan-esque three hour boat tour gone horribly, horribly wrong.

NOVEMBER 1899

The most recent Thanksgivukkah occurred on the eve of the 20th century, when an elderly Mordechai Howard took the invitation of President William McKinley to introduce merged holiday themes at their White House celebration:  turkeys stuffed with sweet potato latkes, jelly doughnuts filled with pumpkin sauce, hora dances circling piles of green bean casserole.

But alas, the ceremony went totally, awfully awry.  Mordechai’s three toddler grandsons were playing a robust — some say vicious — game of Spin the Pilgrim Dreidel.  After losing all of his cranberry sauce-flavored gelt, the oldest son poked the youngest in the eyes, then banged him on the head with a Star of David engraved musket, accidentally knocking over the brown gravy-fueled menorah, setting fire to the White House curtains, and ultimately killing Vice President Garret Hobart.

The Howard children

With the pogroms furiously raging in Eastern Europe, and the wave of Jewish immigrants desperately finding refuge at Ellis Island, an anti-Semitic backlash was rearing its ugly head, and the notorious Thanksgivukkah fire added (brown gravy) fuel to the hatred.  A multifaceted coverup ensued; even the history books were altered to claim that Vice President Hobart died of “ill-health.”  (Look it up here.)  No one knows what happened to the three Howard children, although one colorized picture of them remains and is posted here.

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So alas, we come to today, as we celebrate Thanksgivukkah for the last time apparently until the year 79,811.   I urge my fellow Americans — particularly my fellow Jews  — to refrain from the easy jokes, and instead honor the great Howard family…Shecky, Mordechai, even the three clownish grandsons..and remember what this holiday is truly about:  religious freedom, family togetherness, delicious food, and most soi-tenly, the miracle of laughter.

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If you like this piece, please read How Adam Sandler’s Chanukkah Song Saved the Jews and The Five Most Jew-ish Gentiles in Pop Culture.

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