What to do when Chanukah and Thanksgiving overlap

NEW YORK — This merging of secular and religious holidays leaves many Jewish families in a quandary. Should they gather for celebrations two nights in a row? Because Thanksgiving comes first, will it overshadow the Festival of Lights? Because the first night of Chanukah falls on a Shabbat, doesn't it deserve special attention?

"How do you juggle three holidays?" Abadi asks. "Is it possible to be the perfect American Jewish pilgrim?"

Jayne Cohen, author of "The Gefilte Variations" has no qualms about acknowledging both Thanksgiving and Chanukah, even though they dovetail, because she sees parallels between them.

"Besides the fact that they are home-centered holidays, they share a spiritual connection, too," she says. The theme of both holidays revolves around deliverance from religious persecution. At Chanukah, we recall Jewish resistance to Hellenization after the Greeks attempted to crush our rituals and beliefs. At Thanksgiving, we pay homage to the pilgrims who fled England seeking a safe place to worship as they pleased.

Still, the holidays' close proximity poses logistical problems. Many Jews may wonder if it's respectful to celebrate this special Chanukah Shabbat with their homes overflowing with pumpkins and rust-colored chrysanthemums. Then there's the issue of Thanksgiving leftovers likely to be stuffing refrigerators. Should they be removed in favor of Chanukah fare?

Ironically there are many dishes from the canon of Jewish cuisine that call for the harvest foods associated with Thanksgiving dinner. They represent both Sephardi and Ashkenazi tradition. These recipes are also excellent choices for families who decide to postpone Thanksgiving for a day or desire to extend the warmth of America's farewell to fall into the first night of Chanukah.

Joyce Goldstein, San Francisco chef, cooking teacher and author, raves about pumpkin-filled phyllo roses, a recipe from "Sephardic Flavors: Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean." She often serves these phyllo pastries on Thanksgiving, and offers preparation tips. "If you are reluctant to handle fresh pumpkin, the canned variety yields delightful results. If you have mashed butternut squash or pumpkin leftover from Thanksgiving, make phyllo roses for Chanukah."

When filled with pumpkin, these appealing pastries are traditional at Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot. They walk a fine line between being a savory dish and a dessert. Turkish Jews specialize in a sweet version.

"You can reduce the amount of sugar and add some salty cheese to make the filling savory, or conversely you can increase the sugar to make it a dessert pastry," she says.

Hosts who are throwing back-to-back holiday parties have a wide variety of late-harvest produce from which to choose.

"Root vegetables, such as parsnips, are what people tend to make at this time of year," says Jennifer Felicia Abadi, author of "A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzie's Kitchen."

Besides the fact that parsnips are popular Thanksgiving fare, her recipe calls for them to be sautéed in oil, so the dish is perfect for Chanukah, too. As a bonus, it complements either pot roast, chicken — or turkey.

Among Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, goose was a treasured treat throughout the winter. While turkey is typical at Thanksgiving, it is not required. Roasting goose would bring back a beloved Ashkenazi dish that is waning.

Goldstein is not fazed by the prospect of one holiday running into the other. She feels with so much leftover Thanksgiving turkey, there's no need to prepare an elaborate main course for the first night of Chanukah. She suggests concentrating on side dishes, latkes and fritters, which can be reworked from the bounty filling the refrigerator from the day before.

"My family loves Thanksgiving leftovers," says Goldstein. "Chanukah or not, they always show up at my house the next day."

On Chanukah, it's the lighting of candles and singing that her grandchildren love. Not to mention small gifts and dipping fritters in applesauce, which this year can be spiked with cranberry relish.

"I think we're going to have an exciting, an easier Chanukah," Goldstein says. "If we take advantage of the good cooking we did for Thanksgiving."

The Rodanches de Kalavasa are from Goldstein's "Sephardic Flavors." The tsimmes recipe is from Jayne Cohen's "The Gefilte Variations." The parsnip recipe is from "A Fistful of Lentils" by Abadi.



Makes 10-12

16 oz. can solid-pack, unsweetened pumpkin puree

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

2 Tbs. vegetable oil, plus 1/2 cup

1 cup chopped walnuts

pinch of salt

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

8 phyllo sheets, thawed in refrigerator, if frozen

To pumpkin, add sugar, cinnamon and 2 Tbs. oil. Place in a saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick. Cool and place in a colander to drain for several hours. Move to a bowl and fold in walnuts, salt and parsley. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil 2 baking sheets. Cut phyllo sheets into thirds, so you have rectangles measuring about 6 by 12 inches. When not working with the phyllo sheets, cover with plastic wrap to avoid drying out. Brush one rectangle with oil. Layer another rectangle on top and brush with oil. Place a narrow line of pumpkin filling just inside a long edge. Fold over the edge to cover the filling and continue to roll, brushing with oil as you roll, until you have a long snake. Do not roll tightly as phyllo may crack. Curl the snake into a spiral coil, but not tightly. Repeat until no filling and phyllo remain. Place spirals on baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, 30-45 minutes. Serve warm or hot.