When I first heard that Thanksgiving and Chanukkah would be converging this–er, last–year, and would not re-converge for another 70,000 years (!) I actually put it out of my mind. For all that food and gratitude are central to Thanksgiving, it is not my favorite holiday. Swallowing the standard narrative of Pilgrim heros seeking tolerance and freedom who celebrated the generosity of the Native Americans they would later attempt to blot from the earth…well, it has a tendency to sour the meal. I have other holidays full of food symbolism and family if I need a gratitude fix.
Nonetheless, tradition has a powerful pull–what kind of anthropologist would I be if I couldn’t acknowledge that?–and when you put two highly food-centric American* holidays on the plate of a food-obsessed American anthropologist and throw down a once-in-70,000-year-gauntlet…well, who am I to refuse the challenge? Especially when fate has seen fit to send me another food-obsessed American anthropologist with whom to cook/celebrate, far though we may be from American shores?
Well, history, we see your once-in-a-lifetime holiday convergence, and we give you…a Ghanaian Jewish American picnic.
Perhaps the most epic of the Ghanian-inspired attempts at a fusion of Thanksgiving and Chanukkah was what we made in place of the apple pie I so desperately wanted to bake, but couldn’t: sufganiyot. These jelly donuts are more associated with Israeli celebrations of Chanukkah, and I did not grow up with them as a holiday tradition at all, but in many ways they’re quite similar to the popular Ghanaian ‘doughnut’ known as bofrot, and it gave me the excuse to make apple jelly–almost like an apple pie! points!–so we went for it.
My comrade-in-cooking had intended to bring down a turkey from the North of Ghana, where she works, but was informed that turkeys are the ‘fowl of the bourgeoisie.’
As grad students, we don’t quite qualify, but we were fine with just the fixin’s.
The students we invited to join us certainly thought it an odd meal, but I think even the ants were grateful for a chance to come together and eat and share traditions and history.
*Surely, you’re thinking, Chanukkah cannot be called an American holiday. You’d be right–up to a point. As I see it, the way Chanukkah is celebrated in the US, and its prominence in the American holiday calendar, has more to do with compensating for Jewish kids in the US–where the greatest proportion of Jewish kids live, after all–feeling left out and/or oppressed by all that Christmas cheer than any particular importance in Judaism per se. The holiday itself is a minor one that is doesn’t even merit a mention in most classical Jewish texts.