Much has been made of this year’s coincidence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. This (extremely) rare event is brought about by a very late Thanksgiving (November 28th!) and a very early Hanukkah. Calendrical pundits are telling us this won’t happen again for some 70 thousand years. But, of course, the one question my father in law would ask is this: is it good for the Jews, or bad for the Jews?
My general preference with Hanukkah is to keep it distinct – from Christmas. The fact that the two holidays commonly fall around the same time of year, that both involve the giving of presents and the bringing of light into the home, has created a sort of Hanukkah vs. Christmas scenario over the years, and the simple fact is that Hanukkah can’t win that fight. Christmas has become a holiday version of the NFL, while Hanukkah at the end of the day is still one of the least important Jewish holidays, not even mentioned in the Bible. So I prefer it when Hanukkah quietly comes and goes, we light our candles, eat our latkes, exchange a few gifts, and pack it up for another year. Once we’re done Christmas can roll in and be what it has become, and we don’t have to compete.
But somehow Thanksgiving feels different, and perhaps this is why the coming together of the holidays – now called Thanksgivikkuh – has clearly captured people’s imagination. First of all the narratives are eerily similar. Both festivals tell the tale of persecution and a struggle for freedom. Both are food centric holidays, Thanksgiving because it recalls an actual meal eaten by the Pilgrims, Hanukkah because – well, because it is a Jewish holiday, and therefore must be food centered (come on, even Yom Kippur, a fast day, revolves around the break fast!). Both holidays also acknowledge that although we pray for God’s help, at the end of the day we make our own luck. The Maccabees didn’t wait for a miracle, they in a sense made their own miracle. We might say the same about the Pilgrims. And of course there is the simple theme of gratitude – that we live in a great nation where we are free to worship in any way that we choose, that we have, as we Jews say, ‘what to eat,’ that the State of Israel exists today, that America has truly been a place where the disenfranchised, persecuted, and underprivileged have found a home, and been able to thrive (the story of both the Pilgrims and the Jews coming to these shores).
So I’m cool with Thanksgivikkuh, or whatever you want to call it. In fact, I’m even enjoying it. I might as well – after all, it won’t happen again for another 70 thousand years or so.
Happy Hanukkah! Happy Thanksgiving!