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Happy Thanksgiving and Chag Chanukah Sameach!

Posted by Dr. Fay on November 28, 2013

Video retrieved from jjobrasil.

2013 is one of the few times that the Thanksgiving holiday has coincided with Hanukkah, which began at sunset last evening.  So Jewish Americans will be lighting the second candle on the Menorah tonight as they celebrate Thanksgiving as well.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman writes at Chabad.org:

Chanukah was declared a Jewish national holiday 2178 years ago. Thanksgiving was declared a national American holiday on the last Thursday of every November by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Before then, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different dates in different states, so we won’t count those [for comparison purposes]. But, using the Chabad.org Date Converter, you will see that Thanksgiving coincided with the first day of Chanukah on November 29, 1888. It also coincided with the fourth day of Chanukah on November 30, 1899.

On November 28, 1918, Thanksgiving was on Chanukah eve. But since it’s still Thanksgiving until midnight, and Jewish days begin at night, that would still mean that Jewish Americans would have eaten their turkeys that Thanksgiving to the light of their first Chanukah candle.

It gets more complicated. Originally, Thanksgiving was always on the last Thursday of November. In 1939, FDR decided it would be good for the economy to push Thanksgiving back a little, so he declared the fourth Thursday of that November to be Thanksgiving—even though there were five Thursdays to November that year. In 1942, that became federal law. But not all states went along with it. As late as 1956, Texas was still celebrating Thanksgiving a week later than the rest of the country.

Which means that if you were a Texan Jewish family, you would be eating that turkey to the light of your first Chanukah light in 1945 and 1956.

Will it ever happen again? Interesting question. If we project forward, assuming that:

  1. Thanksgiving will be celebrated on the same schedule,
  2. The people celebrating Thanksgiving will continue following the Gregorian calendar without modification,
  3. The Jewish calendar will continue on its current 19-year cycle,

. . . then the next time the two will coincide would be when Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah eve in the year 2070. That would repeat itself in 2165.

The spiritual significance of Hanukkah is discussed here:

The joyous festival of Hanukkah begins on 25 Kislev of the Jewish calendar. It celebrates two miracles –a great Jewish military victory and a miraculous supply of oil for the Temple.

Hanukkah marks the Macabees’ long-ago defeat of the much-larger Greek-Syrian army that had invaded Israel. The Macabees were just a small group of Jews led by Mattathias and his five sons, including Judah Macabee. But they organized themselves into a guerrilla army and, with God’s help, proved stronger than their powerful enemy.

Following the Macabees’ victory, the Jews rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and, once again, were able to worship freely.

Although Hanukkah celebrates a military victory, its major symbol — the Hanukkah menorah, or hanukkiah — reminds us of the miracle of the oil. As the Jews purified the Holy Temple, they found only one flask of the oil for the eternal lamp — enough to keep it burning for just one day. But a miracle occurred, and the oil lasted eight days and nights until more oil could be brought from afar. That miracle explains why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days and also why Hanukkah is called the Festival of Lights.

The Hanukkah menorah holds nine candles, one for each of the eight nights and an additional candle that’s used to light the others. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second night, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night.

We at SPIB want to wish our Jewish friends and readers a happy and blessed double holiday today of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Chaq Chanukah Sameach!

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