Next week Jewish Americans will experience a super-rare first (and last) in their lifetimes: the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, or, as it’s been dubbed, Thanksgivukkah.
According to some sources, the next time the first day of Hanukkah will coincide with Thanksgiving will be in the year 79811.
It’s far more common for Hanukkah to coincide with Christmas, which is why many non-Jews think of Hanukkah as a religious holiday. It’s not. It’s actually a celebration of the Maccabee soldiers’ military victory (in 168 BCE) against the Greeks, who had taken over the temple in Jerusalem and were forcing the Jews to worship their gods and eat pork, which was against their religion.
The Jews’ resistance led to a rebellion, which they won. They reoccupied their temple and sought to purify it by burning ritual oil. There was only enough for one day — yet miraculously, it lasted eight days. Since then, Jews have lit candles in menorahs for eight nights to honor the occasion.
(Two cultural footnotes: An old joke has it that the theme of all Jewish holidays is “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!” And for the record, there are several acceptable spellings of the holiday — which is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “dedication” — provided it’s spelled with eight letters, to commemorate the eight days that the oil burned. Therefore, Chanukah, Hanukkah, Hanukhah and even Hannukah are all kosher.)
(MORE: Different Kinds of Gratitude)
A Lot of Reasons to Give Thanks
While Hanukkah is a celebration of a military victory, there’s also a component of gratitude in it. And because I’m the type who doesn’t take serendipities (or “coincidences”) lightly, I think there is something very special about this year’s rare convergence — for Jews and non-Jews alike. To me, the overlap signals an opportunity to take the day’s significance to a higher level.
I believe that “Thanksgivukkah” is the perfect occasion to give thanks for the greatest gift of all, life itself.
Of course, for some people, Thanksgiving is just the starting gun in the race for Christmas-shopping bargains — and this year promises to be worse than ever, with more and more stores staying open on Thanksgiving, aka Black Thursday.
(MORE: How Much More Stuff Do We Really Need?)
I’d like to acknowledge the rising tide of folks who do seek to reconnect with the real spirit of the holiday. Many people, before tucking into their feasts, take a few minutes to share something they’re especially appreciative of. When done from the heart, this gesture has the potential to add meaning to the occasion and deepen our familial bonds.
There are countless things we could — and should— be grateful for, from the bounty of food on the table and our safe homes to adequate health and wealth to indulge our passions.
Thanksgivvukah reminds me of my recent visit to Yad Vashem, the devastatingly powerful Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and the tsunami of emotions that were unleashed by the graphic exhibits of the waking nightmare that 11 million were subjected to (more than half of whom were Jews).
Among my most moving takeaways were the words, spoken and written, of the survivors. Having lived through unimaginable horrors, each expressed profound gratitude for simply being alive. Their priorities had been radically reshuffled and all their former complaints and inconveniences were rendered totally meaningless.
I don’t mean to minimize modern folks’ pain and suffering. Many of us have lost loved ones, are dealing with parents’ decline or battling physical, emotional or financial challenges.
I’m just suggesting that this year, on the rare occurrence of Thanksgivukkah, for just one day we choose to table our own pain and problems and make an effort to connect to and appreciate the truly incredible gift of life.
How to Help
Sometimes the best way to feel gratitude for all the good in our lives is by shifting the focus from our problems to others who’ve suffered even more. I recently learned about a not-for-profit organization called The Blue Card. Since 1934, it's provided more than $22 million in financial assistance, first to European victims of Nazism and then to Holocaust survivors in this country, many of whom live at or below the poverty line.
This holiday season, please consider making a donation to this incredible organization. Even a small gift can pay someone’s electric bill or ensure they get the medical attention they need.
I read some of the handwritten thank-you notes (one of which accompanies this blog), and I promise you something. If you can reflect on the unspeakable atrocities these people lived through and how appreciative they are for just modest assistance, you won’t have a problem overlooking burnt stuffing or a nagging in-law and, instead, feeling deep gratitude for the miracle that is your life.