In Baltimore, another important event will make the day all the more momentous: The Ravens are playing their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, that evening.

Public relations maven Sandy Hillman and her husband, Bob, will be welcoming 12 relatives from Pittsburgh for the meal and game.

"We're going to do Thanksgivukkah dinner, Hanukkah gift-giving and then everyone is going to the game," said Hillman. "It's a Thanksgiving trifecta."

The Hillmans expect to have about two dozen people at their Guilford home, where Thanksgiving dinner will feature some Hanukkah treats such as corned beef and latkes.

Hillman is still figuring out how to decorate the table, perhaps with a cornucopia filled with dreidels or turkey-shaped dreidels, she said.

For families with young children, the early start to Hanukkah means they'll need to shop for toys before Black Friday's deep discounts begin.

"I told my kids they're getting all the good stuff on the eighth day of Hanukkah," said Amy Halushka, a writer and editor from Lutherville.

Some have decided to mark the holiday with charitable donations. Liz Glass, a stay-at-home mother from Annapolis, doesn't plan to give Hanukkah gifts on Thanksgiving; instead, she'll donate the money to buy a turkey dinner for a family in need.

Many Jewish families say the best part of Thanksgivukkah is that they'll be able to celebrate both holidays with extended family.

Lisa Spritzer, an engineering firm manager, has had pretty low-key Thanksgiving and Hanukkah celebrations over the past couple of years. Her college-age son rarely has time off around Hanukkah, and the family tends to scatter for Thanksgiving.

But this year, in honor of Thanksgivukkah, "I called my sister and said, 'Let's do it all,' " said Spritzer, of Reisterstown.

Her son, a senior at Salisbury University, has several days off for Thanksgiving. And more than 15 members of the family will gather this year to celebrate the holidays with latkes with gravy and a noodle kugel.

Other families plan to devote Wednesday evening to celebrating Hanukkah. Jewish holidays begin at sundown, which means that while Thursday, Nov. 28, is the first full day of Hanukkah, the holiday begins Wednesday evening.

As one of the most malleable of Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is well suited to being blended with another celebration, said Andrew Marc Caplan, a professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Hanukkah is the holiday in the Jewish calendar that has become the receptacle of whatever the prevailing cultural narrative is," said Caplan.

Zionists, said Caplan, embrace the nationalist theme in the holiday, which celebrates, among other things, the Maccabean Revolt, in which a small army of Jews overthrew their Greek rulers in the second century B.C. The story of people throwing off oppressors appeals to socialists, he said.

And in America, "Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas," he said.

While Jews have traditionally exchanged token gifts of a few coins on Hanukkah, the custom of giving presents on each of the eight nights of the holiday originated 70 to 80 years ago in the United States, Caplan said.

Jewish leaders, who were concerned that some Jewish families had begun setting up Christmas trees, encouraged Hanukkah gifts to "dissuade people from embracing more elements of Christmas," Caplan said.

But Hanukkah, which is not a particularly solemn or important part of the Jewish faith, has much more in common with Thanksgiving than Christmas, the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of their savior, Caplan said.

Spritzer, the Reisterstown woman planning the family celebration, couldn't be more excited about the once-in-a-lifetime confluence.

But she does see one downside: Once Hanukkah ends, there's a long wait until New Year's.

"When Christmas rolls around, Jewish people are going to feel a little let down," she said.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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