Since 1902, the first night of Hanukkah has fallen on December 24 only three times. That's because the Jewish lunar calendar is similar to but doesn't quite match the solar-based Gregorian calendar that most of us use, so the holiday generally happens in December, but not on the same day in the standard, secular calendar's terms. This year, for the first time since 1978, Hanukkah starts on Christmas Eve. For half-Jewish-half-Christian kids, this is kind of a bummer, as is every year that Hanukkah and Christmas coincide (it's much more common for the festival of lights to begin sometime between December 7 and 14, which allows for two wholly separate holidays), but there's someone else whom it effects even more intensely: bakers.
More specifically, it's bakers whose businesses cater to both Jewish and more secular traditions. Three Brothers Bakery co-owner Bobby Jucker confirms, "I’ve been here almost 35 years and it’s never fallen on the same time." So, is he prepared for the onslaught? "I’ll tell you the day after, I don’t know yet," he says, already sounding beleaguered.
In some ways, it will just be another day for Jucker and his wife, Janice. Because they're Jewish, they don't close on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Though they don't ask employees to come to work on Christmas Day, he says a couple have chosen to. "We’re going to be open that day from 8:30 in the morning until roughly 2 or so," he says. "And we’re going to have to see."
A piece in Country Living magazine a few years ago that dubbed Three Brothers's pecan pie the best in the country means that the holidays are already overwrought—the lion's share of the 5,000 pies they ship around the country annually leave the bakery between the time just before Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But this year, on top of regular necessities, Jucker has to have both Hanukkah and Christmas treats ready simultaneously. For those celebrating the former, that means specialties including sufganiyot, or Israeli jelly doughnuts available with chocolate, strawberry, raspberry or lemon fillings; and gingerbread houses decorated in the Israeli flag's blue and white with dreidels and menorahs. Christmas sweets include Old World classics such as Yule logs and stollen.
Besides longer baking hours and extra help from staff, Jucker admits there's not much he can do to fully prepare. But he does give this plea: "It’s a challenge, but you know if everybody is patient and doesn’t get too excited, it will be fine. You just have to understand it’s just cake and bread and rolls and pie. You just have to recognize it’s not life-threatening stuff."