Happy Thanksgivingukkah


BRATTLEBORO -- There are a lot of myths about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving meal, but the one thing most historians can agree on is that there were probably no yarmulkes worn that day in Massachusetts.

This year it is appropriate to wear yarmulkes, spin dreidels and say a Jewish prayer between the turkey and pumpkin pie.

That's because for the first time in almost 100 years the two holidays share a night.

And it won't happen again until 2070.


The rare convergence of the holiday in the solar Gregorian calendar with the holiday in the Jewish lunar calendar is reason enough to celebrate, but the two holidays actually have a lot on common, said Kate Judd, spiritual leader of Shir Heharim, the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community.

Both holidays symbolize religious freedom, and Judd points out that like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah was probably originally a harvest celebration.

"The truth is people are not always thrilled when a Jewish holiday is mixed up with a non-Jewish holiday, but if you are going to mix two holidays, these are two great ones to mix," Judd said. "It is much less complicated than mashing it up with Christmas."

President Lincoln declared the last Thursday of every November as a federal Thanksgiving holiday in 1863.

Before the holiday was moved in 1942 Hanukkah and Thanksgiving shared a day in 1888.

Thanksgiving Day became a national holiday in 1942 when Franklin Roosevelt said the annual day of giving thanks should fall on the fourth Thursday of November.

After the FDR proclamation the two holidays coincided in 1918.

But that year the occurrence happened by a technicality, because Hanukkah began at sundown, on Thanksgiving eve.

Which brings us to 2013, or 5774 in the Jewish calendar, but who's counting?

This year, because November 1 was a Friday, Thanksgiving falls as late in the month as it can.

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this year on Nov. 28.

Hanukkah starts on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which falls on a different day of the Gregorian calendar every year.

This year Hanukkah, which usually is celebrated in December, comes about as early in the year as it can.

Hanukkah is tied to the Jewish calendar, which is lunar based and the calendar contains 12 months of about 30 days, or about 354 days a year.

Seven times every 19 years the Jewish calendar includes an extra month, to align the holidays with their seasons.

This year is a leap year, and all of the holidays are as early in the year as they are likely to appear.

Hence, in 2013, or 5774 of the Jewish calendar, we get Thanksgivingukkah.

"This is on everybody's mind," said Judd. "It's an anomaly in terms of the calendar and some people say we're not going to see it again for 79,000 years."

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday, celebrating a military victory by the Maccabees over the Syrian Army in 168 B.C.E.

One candle is added to the menorah each evening to celebrate, and Thanksgiving falls on the second night.

Depending on when the turkey comes out of the oven, this year a menorah with two candles will find its way to the Jewish Thanksgiving table.

Jews don't need very much of an excuse to celebrate with food; any old holiday will do. But when you match the biggest American culinary holiday with a Jewish festival, the edible options are mind blowing, and belt busting.

The one traditional Hanukkah food is potato pancakes, or latkes, which will be drowned this year in turkey gravy.

How about apple-cranberry sauce for the pumpkin latkes, kugel stuffing for the bird, sweet potato tsimmis, with marshmallows maybe, or cranberry jelly doughnuts?

Or on Friday, using leftovers, it might be appropriate to make turkey matzo ball soup.

Jews also like arguing, almost as much they like eating, and so there is some debate about when we will see another Thanksgivingukkah celebration.

A rough calculation finds that the two holidays will coincide again in 2070, and then again in 2165.

A more precise estimate, however, puts the convergence out thousands of years because the Gregorian calendar, the Jewish calendar, and the Solar System are not exactly aligned.

The two calendars are diverging by a rate of about 11 minutes a year, or three days every 400 years, and some say that by 2165, Hanukkah will be one day later.

The two holidays, on a cosmic scale, could meet again in about 70,000 years.

Or not.

"Who wouldn't like cranberry sauce with their latkes?" Judd asked. "It's worth celebrating."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer


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