This year, 2013, marks a once in a lifetime convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. The “Thanksgivukkah” holiday has sparked some fascinating fusions such as pumpkin challah bread, kosher cornbread, and my personal favorite, the menurkey: part turkey, part menorah. The pictures below speak thousands of words.
I plan on celebrating Thanksgiving in a relatively traditional manner, and given that I am not Jewish and don’t even really know how to spell Hanukkah, I only recently discovered the hybridization of these holidays. I wish I’d had more time to fully grasp the wacky side of it all…
Silliness aside, the traditions associated with both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah serve to carry forward stories, values, and recipes across generations. Social and religious elements come together to create a bountiful, vibrant heritage for many who take part in meaningful holiday customs from year to year.
In the same vein, different cultures and religious traditions dictate customs for mourning, funerals and care of the dead which serve to bring honor and structure to the grieving process.
Jewish culture in particular prescribes a distinct set of rituals surrounding death, indicative of the many rules and procedures pertaining to the faith. Many aspects of Jewish customs are often misunderstood, but I believe there is much value in taking a closer look at the deep-rooted sense of honor pervasive among individual mourning practices.
One of the most well-known Jewish mourning customs is Shiva— you may recognize the phrase, “sitting Shiva.” This 7 day period of mourning begins after the burial of a body and, in the most Orthodox circles, includes tearing of garments, covering mirrors, and not shaving or bathing for the week. By sitting low to the ground and staying mostly in the home, mourners convey a sense of loss dwelling heavily on their hearts. The neglect of physical comforts also brings more emphasis to emotional and spiritual conditions.
Shiva begins after burial, and it is symbolic for switching focus from care of the deceased to care for the mourners. After the initial mourning week of Shiva is over, a Shloshim period of 30 days extends some elements of Shiva, and mourners do not attend social gatherings, shave, or cut their hair. (No-shave-November, anybody??) This time period serves as a transition back to daily life, but leaves room for feelings of loss to exist in a safe environment and helps make known that grief is a process.
The period of 30 days coincides with the lunar calendar, and it is tied closely with the idea of coming full circle, just as the moon waxes and wanes. Mourners often find comfort in watching light reappear as the moon cycles from new to full. Likewise, comfort is found in having the structure of tradition at the one year anniversary of the death. At this time of natural reflection, known as the “Yahrtzeit,” candles are lit and prayers are recited, and a celebration of life is held.
In the Jewish faith, the respect shown for the dead is very important, as is the simplicity and sacredness of rituals. Jewish funeral traditions shift the center of focus away from death and towards the cycle of life, and there is powerful imagery to help shape and give depth to many of the practices besides the ones listed here.
If I’ve whetted your appetite for Jewish customs surrounding death and mourning, join me next time for discussion about ritual care of the deceased and Jewish funeral traditions. If I’ve whetted your appetite for pumpkin challah or other Thanksgivukkah treats, I’m sorry: I’m fresh out.
Read more about Thanksgivukkah here!
And share your thoughts in the comment section!