There has been much ado this year about the fact that the first day of Chanukah coincides with the holiday of Thanksgiving. The last time that Thanksgiving overlapped with the first day of Chanukah was in 1888, 125 years ago. According to Dr. Jonathan Mizrahi, a New Mexico-based physicist, the next time that the first full day of Chanukah will fall out on Thanksgiving is in 79811, which is 77,798 years from now. Do not despair, however. According to physicist Dr. Eli Lansey, the first night of Chanukah, as opposed to the first day, will fall out on Thanksgiving in 2070 and 2165, 57 and 152 years from now, respectively.
This great anomaly has caused a sense of giddiness amongst entrepreneurs, marketing professionals, people in the food industry, and various individuals whose creative juices began flowing. We have seen the birth of the “Menurkey,” which is a menorah shaped like a turkey, T-shirts with slogans such as “Light, Liberty, and Latkes,” latkes with cranberry sauce, and pumpkin rugelach. It is a veritable bonanza for people hoping to capitalize on this once in a lifetime event.
But for all of the excitement that people feel due to “Thanksgivukkah,” the fun and games that people have conjured up are mostly superficial. I would like to take a closer and more analytical view of this calendric abnormality.
Thanksgiving is a day full of family, football and fun. It is an annual American Pastime that is eagerly anticipated and widely commemorated.
I have fond memories of our entire family gathering at my grandparents’ house on Thanksgiving for a festive holiday meal. After Grandpa carved the turkey and everyone settled down to eat, we would happily enjoy each other’s company and share some quality time together as a family.
Yet, there was always a deeper, more meaningful side to the day. As we consumed the delicious turkey and delectable side dishes, we would go around the table, and one-by-one we would tell everyone what we were thankful for. It was a relatively simple exercise, yet it compelled us to recognize and acknowledge that there were many things for which we had to be grateful.
The holiday of Chanukah is somewhat comparable to Thanksgiving in that regard. We generally associate Chanukah with giving and getting presents, consuming latkes and jelly donuts, spirited games of dreidel, and spending time with our family. However, like Thanksgiving, there is a more profound element of Chanukah that warrants our attention and reflection.
The religious significance of Chanukah is well-known, yet often overlooked. In 176 BCE, King Antiochus and the Greek Empire attempted to incapacitate the Jewish nation and capture the Land of Israel. Antiochus’ methodical attempt to overwhelm the Jews was done via Hellenization, in which the Greeks exerted their control in an effort to cajole and then coerce the Jews into abandoning Judaism and converting to paganism.
The foundations of the Jewish faith, such as observing Shabbos, teaching and learning Torah, and conducting circumcisions were outlawed by the Greeks. In an attempt to strike at the very core of the soul of the Jewish people, the Beit Hamikdash was defiled and decorated with forbidden idolatry. Given the impossible choice of forgoing their religion or facing death, many Jews unfortunately succumbed to a life of Hellenism.
And then the Maccabees arrived on the scene. Mattathias and his five sons refused to capitulate to the Greeks and in 167 BCE they rose up and led a rebellion against Antiochus. Led by Judah Maccabee, as he is commonly referred to, this small band of Jews, which was greatly outnumbered by the mighty Greek army, ultimately prevailed and was successful in driving the Greeks out of Israel. It was the unlikely and miraculous victory of the Maccabees that saved the spiritual being of the Jewish people and led to the establishment of the holiday of Chanukah.
As we sit here in the 21st century and enjoy all of the wonderful gifts we have been given, it behooves us as Jews to take a moment to reflect on what we have to be thankful for: We live in an era in which it is very easy to be a Jew. As Jewish-Americans, we are extremely fortunate to live in a country that allows us to practice our religion in accordance with the tenets of our faith, whenever, wherever, and however we choose. We live in a place in which we are free to build shuls in which we can pray and schools in which our children can receive a quality Jewish education.
We live in a time in which we have a Jewish State that we can call our own. We live in an age in which we can easily travel to Israel and enjoy unfettered access to the holy sites that play such an integral role in Jewish tradition and history.
So, as we celebrate “Thanksgivukkah” and partake in the festivities, we should all make a concerted effort to set aside some time to contemplate what we have to be thankful for.
Aside from being thankful for tasty turkey, delicious donuts and luscious latkes, we should make sure that we thank the Maccabees. Without their intervention and heroism, who knows what might have become of the Jewish people?
One thing is for certain. Without the Maccabees, there would be no Chanukah, and thus no Thanksgivukkah.
By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.