Holiday tug-of-war: Eat in or out? Celebrate Hanukkah or Thanksgiving?

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Rosalinda Allen with her clean, empty dining table, which will remain that way this Thanksgiving as the family plans to dine out for the first time on the holiday. Carucha Meuse/TJN

Thanksgiving is always a day of both celebration and compromise.

We’re elated to feast with our friends and favorite relatives, but wish that didn’t mean three days of cooking and a mountain of dishes. We’re happy to be guests at a gathering so large several tables with mismatched linens are needed to accommodate everyone — but then we miss out on the post-holiday leftovers. And we’re thankful to kick off another holiday season, but frustrated when a freaky calendar like this year’s pushes two celebrations into the same week.

Thanksgiving is a holiday with more push and pull than most, but some families have found ways to make peace with the Thanksgiving tug of war. Too many dishes to wash? Make reservations instead. No leftovers? Just head back to the stove and cook another turkey. The second night of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving? Serve latkes with the turkey!

Read how these families have found ways to compromise, and have so their Thanksgivings work for everyone.

To stay in or go out — that is the question

For 10 years, Frank and Carolyn Pagani shared Thanksgiving with 25 friends and relatives, all gathered around their dining room table.

“We prepared and hosted both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for our family. But, it became too much of a chore as both holiday feasts are only separated by a month,” says Frank Pagani, a public relations and marketing consultant who lives in Ardsley.

So this year, he and about a dozen relatives will head to a restaurant on Long Island, and let the staff there take care of everything from cocktails to dessert — and the dishes, too.

Whether it’s a demanding career, changing family dynamics or just a space that’s too small, restaurants are becoming popular destinations for Thanksgiving.

The National Restaurant Association estimated that 14 million people visited a restaurant for Thanksgiving in 2011. The trade group is preparing a new survey this month and expects similar numbers.

“We were really surprised how many people do this and it’s difficult to get in,” says Frank Pagani.

Rosalinda Allen, who is dining out with her husband and two children for the first time this Thanksgiving, hasn’t made her reservations yet. Allen, a teacher who lives in Greenburgh, says friends at work told her how much they enjoyed a meal out, and convinced her to try it.

It wasn’t hard convincing her husband, who cooks the Thanksgiving meal, which always includes an old family recipe for baked macaroni and cheese.

“He really likes home cooked meals,” says Allen. “But he really likes someone else cooking for him.”

Her younger son, on the other hand, wanted to hold on to the family tradition of eating at home.

“I said that we should try something different,” says Allen. “People do go out out on Thanksgiving, but I don’t think he understands that because usually we’re at home or traveling to relatives.”

David Shore, who owns La Renaissance Bakery in Scarsdale, is usually one of those travelers. He takes pecan, pumpkin and apple pie, plus other sweets, to his brother’s house for Thanksgiving. But this year, his brother is between houses, and the temporary apartment is too small even for the Shore family gathering of eight.

Instead, the group is heading to the brunch buffet at the Renaissance Westchester hotel in White PlainsHarrison, where they’ll be sharing turkey and sides with about 250 other people.

Manager Catherine Stevens says the hotel is completely booked, and brunch reservations are up about 50 people this year — perhaps because the meal combines brunch and lunch.

Shore, who lives in White Plains, doesn’t mind the change in venue, he says.

“It can still be a nice, comfortable day and you can still go home and have a dessert or drink. You’re with the family and that’s what matters,” says Shore.

Besides, they’ll head to his brother’s new house next year.

— Ernie Garcia

Twitter: @Ernie_G_journo

‘Thankgivukkah’: Choosing between two holidays

Helene Gaynor knows exactly what she’ll be doing at sundown on Thanksgiving: After clearing away the dishes from her turkey-and-latkes dinner, she’ll light the candles on her Hanukkah menorah and prepare doughnutsdonuts with her young grand-niece and grand-nephew. “We take our Thanksgiving very seriously and we take our Hanukkah very seriously as well,” says Gaynor, who lives in Scarsdale and will host the joint celebration at her weekend home in Connecticut. “Both holidays have tremendous meaning to us as a family, and I didn’t want to diminish either one of them.”

Even though Hanukkah lasts for eight nights — with Thanksgiving falling this year on the second night of the Jewish festival of lights — the “Thankgivukkah” conundrum is creating more than the usual give-and-take among families. Should everybody gather for one celebration or should they give both holidays equal time, on two different days? And who should host, especially if one relative “owns” Thanksgiving and the other is the usual host of a Hanukkah gathering.

For Rabbi Barry Kenter of the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah has led to spirited discussions among family members about traffic and logistics — and the ultimate decision to celebrate both separately, just as they’ve always done. Thanksgiving dinner will take place at the rabbi’s home — perhaps with a menorah in the shape of a turkey — and a full-fledged Hanukkah meal will follow two days later with his wife’s family in New Jersey.

Two different dinners? Not a chance, says Steve Gold, who lives in New City. When he heard about “Thanksgivukkah,” he knew immediately that the “conversation piece” of a holiday offered the perfect opportunity to consolidate. He plans on hosting 25 to 30 guests for Thanksgiving dinner, and they’ll pass around Hanukkah giftsat the same time. “You get everything out of the way and you don’t need to invite your family back for another holiday,” he says with a laugh.

Susan Andrade of South Salem will add potato latkes to her Thanksgiving table when she serves dinner to her family this year, making that meal a joint celebration. But the combined holiday provides an additional challenge: She won’t be able to go Black Friday shopping for her children’s Hanukkah presents. “With three kids, we definitely take advantage of the sales,” says Andrade, who will buy one or two small gifts in advance — then try to get the rest of her shopping done after Thanksgiving.

But perhaps Sondra Goldstein of Yorktown Heights faces the biggest juggling act of all. Thanksgiving Day is when her grandson Sam Shippas was born 12 years ago — and the fact that it falls during Hanukkah this year makes navigating the day all the more challenging. The family will start their celebration with latkes, gifts and dreidel-spinning, have a birthday cake for Sam in the late afternoon, then wind down with a full Thanksgiving dinner capped with candle-lighting on the menorah. “It’s nice seeing the kids, seeing them all interact” says Goldstein, who has eight grandchildren.

Ultimately, it’s the family togetherness that will create lasting memories, says Gaynor, who is happy to be marking Thanksgiving and Hanukkah on the same day. “One is a tradition of our religion but the other one is a tradition of our patriotism and connection to American traditions,” she says. “And there’s no better way to remind children than through their stomachs.”

— Linda Lombroso

Twitter: @LindaLombroso

Celebrating Thanksgiving twice can sure be nice

The day after Thanksgiving, while most people are hunting down a parking space at the mall or gloating about how much they ate, Bob Stien cq and his wife, Enid Weishaus, of Upper Nyack are hiking. And eating. Again.

“We all cook twice as much food as anyone can ever eat, and my wife and I have a great passion for the outdoors,” says Stien. “So we combined the two.”

Stien organized a community hike and post-hike potluck meal as sort of an anti-Black Friday activity (“That’s just not us,” he says) with a few family members and friends, and the event has grown over the years to nearly 75 participants. Today there’s an open invitation to anyone interested.

The Upper Nyack hikers are part of a trend to celebrate a second Thanksgiving. Some people simply love (or have) to celebrate with more than one set of relatives or friends. Others are happy to be guests for the main event, but want a houseful of leftovers to enjoy all weekend. And some just want another reason to get together with company over the long weekend (a la Boxing Day).

Siobhán Agnello of Nanuet and her Tappan Zee High School friends have a decade-long tradition they call “friends-giving.” The group of 20 takes turns hosting a potluck meal, with everyone posting what they’ll bring in an Evite forum. Her husband, Joe Agnello, is a chef and co-owner, with longtime friend Kevin Barry, of NoCo Catering in Blauvelt. Every year Agnello and Barry are in charge of the turkey, which they brine and smoke.

“When it started we were all single, now a whole bunch of us have kids so it’s getting bigger and bigger each year,” says Siobhán Agnello.

Usually held the weekend before Thanksgiving, Agnello says this year they’re holding the event the week after. Between children and spouses, the group has more time conflicts than they used to in their early 20s.

Stien and Weishaus and their fellow hikers rendezvous at White Trail MMcC please verify to go to the top of Hook Mountain in Upper Nyack. After an hour-long hike, they gather at the dining hall at Marydell Faith and Life Center, where non-hikers sit by the fireplace to wait for the hikers to return.

And in the spirit of the holiday, strangers are encouraged to make friends, find connections and talk about what they’re thankful for.

“In the past we’ve had some people just share (what)with they’re up to or a nonprofit they’re involved in. Spread the word.”

“Old and young, it’s just a glorious mix of people,” says Stien.

— Megan McCaffrey

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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