For the first time since 1918 Hanukkah and Thanksgiving coincide, which by the way won’t happen again until 2070 (save the date). All the jokes about turkeys stuffed with Hanukkah gelt and potato latkes smothered in cranberry sauce have been done to death. I won’t subject you to anymore of that here. So you can be thankful for that.
Most Americans have the mistaken impression that Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas since it normally falls closer to December 25th than to the last Thursday in November. But Hanukkah has always been more about thanksgiving than gift-giving. The Talmud describes the days of Hanukkah as days of praise and thanksgiving, so it’s really a perfect fit that the American Thanksgiving should fall on the first day of Hanukkah this year.
Actually, Judaism and America have been linked since the very beginnings of our country. America was founded on Judeo/Christian beliefs. The Jewish Bible was important to the Christians who settled here. They saw themselves as heirs to the Hebrew Bible, every bit as much as to theirs. In many ways they strongly identified with the Jews.
Thomas Jefferson saw the correlation between the Jews looking for a new homeland and the people of the new United States of America. That’s why he wanted the design of the seal of the United States to depict the Jews leaving Egypt. Just as the Hebrews left Egypt in search of freedom, Americans left Europe in search of freedom.
Literally giving thanks to God is the meaning of both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, or should be. That’s not to say Grandma shouldn’t cook up big, delicious turkey dinners, Dad shouldn’t watch college football games, and uncles and aunts shouldn’t curl up with nephews and nieces to play dreidel or do jigsaw puzzles. We can and should relax and enjoy the day with our families.
But we mustn’t forget the real meaning behind why we’re gathered together at this time. Take Thanksgiving for example. On December 21, 1620 the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Through the dead of winter the colony struggled with poor and meager food, strenuous labor, a chilling wind, and the ravages of disease. Nearly half the 102 Mayflower passengers perished. But God sent Indians to help the English settlers with their farming in the spring.
The bountiful harvest that autumn led Governor Bradford to invite the Indians to celebrate God’s goodness. Ninety braves accepted the invitation to join the Pilgrims in a feast of Thanksgiving to God for His blessings. Today we eat a Thanksgiving feast to commemorate the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving and to thank God for all of our blessings.
Hanukkah thanks God too. During this time Jewish people remember how their ancestors reclaimed the holy Temple from the Syrian-Greeks and then rededicated it to God. In celebration of their victory over their oppressors they wanted to light the menorah but only had enough oil for one day. Miraculously the oil lasted for eight days, thanks to God. “The Festival of the Lights” commemorates this miracle.
Thanking the Almighty for His blessings on us, our families, and our friends should never be left out as we sit down to eat our holiday feasts. So much of contemporary life is devoid of manners, religious faith, and good old fashioned humbleness. Many of us have become self-centered, with little or no thought of others around us, let alone of God. This attitude is not smart, urban, or “cool.” It is just empty, hollow, and cold.
This year take time out to appreciate what you have and thank God for all your blessings. Open your heart to a power higher than yourself. Instead of taking “selfies” of your face stuffed with turkey and posting them on social media, put down your smart phone and focus on something more important than you. Try bowing your head and say a littler prayer of gratitude for the good things in your life. Believe me, it’s good for your digestion and your food will even taste better.
Happy Thanksgiving. Happy Hanukkah.