November-December Bulletin Article
It’s not quite Thanksgivakah this year, but it’s close: Chanukah begins on the Sunday night following Thanksgiving. When Thanksgiving and Chanukah nearly converge like this, I believe both holidays become more meaningful and festive.
Chanukah has its origins in the biblical thanksgiving festival of Sukkot. During Sukkot the Temple priests would sacrifice a total of 70 bulls, 70 being the symbolic number of nations in the world. Our ancestors gave thanks not just for their blessings for the blessings of all peoples. Since the Maccabees were engaged in battle during Sukkot in the year 164 BCE, they delayed their Sukkot-thanksgiving celebration until after they had recaptured Jerusalem and purified the Temple. By then, the Maccabees and the Jewish People were ever more grateful for the miracles God had wrought for them in recent years and, perhaps, ever more grateful for those nations with whom they were at peace. In our day, the near-convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah might inspire us to feel just as grateful for our blessings and remind us to give thanks for our neighbors with whom we coexist peacefully here and abroad.
Another thought. Though many families reunite during Chanukah to light the chanukiah (Chanukah menorah), to eat latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and to open presents, more families, I believe, actually come together to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast. In fact, when asked about my favorite Jewish holiday at my interview for rabbinical school, I offered Thanksgiving as my answer. For me, this was the moment, more than any biblical festival, when I would reconnect with distant aunts, uncles and cousins and experience a deep sense of gratitude, and it was that connectedness and gratitude that was — and still is — at the core of my Jewish identity. It is a real gift to be able to visit with family on Thanksgiving and celebrate an actual Jewish holiday at the same time.
Finally, when Chanukah falls early in the secular calendar, our Chanukah festivities seem to stand more on their own, rather than in the shadow of ubiquitous, over-commercialization Christmas cheer. While both Christmas and Chanukah share an intention of bringing light to the darkness of winter, Chanukah is NOT the Jewish Christmas. Who eats fruitcake along with their sufganiyot and latkes? And, contrary to popular belief, there is no halakhic (Jewish legal) requirement to give gifts; there is not even any mention of gift-giving at Chanukah in the Talmud. (Purim traditionally is the time for gift giving.) True, there is the shadow of Thanksgiving, but as I’ve observed, the shadow of Thanksgiving accentuates, rather than obfuscates, the meaning of Chanukah.
I personally am looking forward to celebrating Chanukah with you as we did last year. Each night we’ll join together on Zoom, and a different household will lead us in the brachot (blessings) for lighting the Chanukah candles and increase the light even more by sharing a song, a story, or an inspirational thought. This year, we might also see some Thanksgiving decorations on the walls of each other’s homes as we “visit” with one another as a CAA family. And, no doubt, once we log-off from our computers, many of us will dig into our Thanksgiving leftovers and enjoy latkes on the side and sufganiyot for dessert. Just the thought makes me believe our holidays in November this year will be sweeter than ever.
Please share your thoughts on the convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah in the comment box!