Why are Thanksgiving and Hanukah on the Same Day This Year?

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tags: Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Jewish holidays

Joshua B. Dermer is a freelance writer.

Image via Wiki Commons.

Thanksgivingukah -- It’s a word you won’t hear again for another 77,000 years.

This year Hanukah will begin on the night of Wednesday, November 27, coinciding with Thanksgiving, celebrated the last Thursday in November.

Hanukah (pronounced CHA-NU-KAH in modern Hebrew) commemorates the Maccabean revolt during the 2nd century B.C.

While the story of Hanukah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, its laws and customs originate from the First and Second books of the Maccabees found in the Jewish apocrypha.

The apocrypha compiles “secret” literature -- stories which were excluded from traditional Judaic scripture. Among these books include the Dead Sea Scrolls and apocalyptic texts. Yet, the story of Hanukah doesn’t contain much unbeknownst to the traditional paradigm of Jewish holidays -- that is, “they wanted to kill us; we won. Let’s eat.” Its collision with Thanksgiving can only mean one thing: more food.

This year brings the voracious custom of home-cooked Jewish meals to table-bending extremes. While Jews are no wanderers from a good smorgasbord, their stomachs are in sight for a post-apocalyptic end before desert can even be served. The Hannukah-Thanksgiving clash will kick off 6 more nights of deep-fried potato pancakes, known as latkes, as well as jelly-doughnuts, often referred to as “sufganyot.”

But Thanksgiving and Hanukah may have more in common than just a bountiful feast.

The all-American holiday of Thanksgiving and its origins also remain uncertain. Based on poor documentation, not exactly “secret” texts, historians trace “Turkey Day” to the Puritans’ 1621 Plymouth feast celebration of the good harvest. However, the tradition of holding an annual feast was not put into practice until 1661. In addition, it wasn’t until 1863, through a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, that the holiday was celebrated across all states.

The last time Hanukah and Thanksgiving coincided was in 1888 and unfortunately, reports of deaths due to cardiovascular complications weren’t established in the U.S. until 1910 with the enactment of the standard death certificate.

What exactly makes the concurrence of these holidays so unique? As Thanksgiving follows a fairly predictable cycle, it seems more likely that it’s the Festival of Lights colliding with Turkey day than the other way around.

Jewish holidays are based on what is known as a “lunar-solar calendar,” which takes into account three unique astronomical phenomena: the earth’s rotation on its axis, which makes a day; the revolution of the earth about the moon, a month; and, the orbital cycle of the earth around the sun, a year.

These factors make Jewish holidays highly unpredictable -- a bit like surprise visits from Jewish grandparents. Hold your breath, because it’s about to get even more complicated. The calendar utilizes what’s known as a metonic cycle -- a period of nineteen years -- giving rise to “Jewish leap years,” which adds a thirteenth month to the calendar. The last leap year occurred in 2012 and, while Hanukah typically falls during the month of December, this is the primary reason for Hanukah’s early start this year. However, if you ask your local Rabbi you’re likely to get a couple dozen different answers.

Above all, both Hanukah and Thanksgiving are about families coming together and sharing the holiday spirit. But as members go around the table and share what they’re thankful for, Jewish schmoozing is sure to be in over-drive.

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