Happy…Thanksgivukkah?

Crossposted to This Is What a Rabbi Looks Like.

While Hannukah has, in the past, coincided with other American holidays, for some reason, its proximity to Thanksgiving has turned into a “thing.” I’m curious to see how this plays out in terms of cooking experiments, and also whether it increases or decreases the likelihood that Jewish families will light their menorah (or menurkey, if you must). But I guess it’s only fair, since this may very well be the only Thanksgivukkah in our lifetime or, depending who you ask, ever.

Thanksgiving and Hannukah already have a lot in common. Both are thought to be tied to the biblical holiday of Sukkot. While no one can prove it, there is a strong suspicion that the Pilgrims based the original Thanksgiving on Sukkot, a harvest festival they would have known from reading the Bible. Hannukah, a ceremony celebrating the rededication of the Temple after it was defiled by the Syrian-Greeks, was actually a late celebration of Sukkot, which the Maccabees had missed while they were fighting. This is one reason that Hannukah lasts eight days, though the Hasmoneans were also trying to reenact the original eight-day dedication ceremony for the mishkan. The “miracle of the oil” story came later, in the Talmud (and yes, I totally ruined a bunch of fourteen-year-olds’ Hannukah by telling them so).

I’ve loved watching people geek out over the Thanksgivukkah math. My ninth graders started the year with a unit on the Jewish calendar, so I showed them this article in class and it kind of blew all of our minds (this one and this one are pretty good, too). It was great to see them apply their knowledge of leap years and lunisolar calendars to an actual historic event. We’re all on the edge of our seats to see if any rabbis step in to correct the Jewish calendar–and who would be entrusted with such an enormous task?—when Hannukah starts drifting into springtime…in 10,000 years.

And part of me finds this particularly delightful: that the descendants of a people who thought they might never survive the winter, and the descendants a people who thought their religion might die out within a generation (and sometimes still does), are now optimistic enough to fret about whether or not their holidays will coincide once again thousands of years in the future.

That’s actually what both holidays are really about: That long ago, a small group of people with limited resources banded together and dared to hope that they might have enough light, warmth, and sustenance to get through their darkest hour. And then they gave thanks, because even something as basic as survival was more than they ever could have hoped for.

While many argue that Thanksgivukkah may never happen again, some say that Hannukah will start on the Thursday night of Thanksgiving in 2070. So whether you call it Thanksgivukkah depends on what time you eat dinner (what a debate Hillel and Shammai could have over that one!), but there will be an overlap again this century. It may be too audacious to hope that we live to see it (I’d be 89–ptu! ptu!), but I pray that a little spark of whatever it is we cherish survives so that these two festivals can overlap again. And that whoever is fortunate enough to live from now until then, is also of sound enough mind to remember where he/she stored their menurkey.

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

Rabbi Leah R. Berkowitz is on the faculty at Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish high school in Waltham, MA.

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