Won’t Compete With Xmas
Sets New Sights on Thanksgiving
by Robert Lichtman
It’s an event of cosmic proportions. Literally. The solar and lunar calendars will align as they have not since 1888, with Thanksgiving coming out on Hanukkah. No need to file away the turkey stuffed with latkes recipe because the next time you’ll need it will be in about 79,000 years. So pretty much, never.
Hanukkah, observed about 1,800 times before the first Thanksgiving, celebrates the victorious conclusion of a war which allowed the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the public rededication of the Jewish people to God after years when such open devotion was crushed.
The Thanksgiving narrative features the Pilgrims who fled oppression to a new world, to devote their lives to God in their own way.
With so much in common, is this celestial convergence a cause for celebration, or does it present a conflict for American Jews? While some may be relieved that it kicks the more traditional “December Dilemma” can down the road till next year, Thanksgiving popping up during the first day of Hanukkah still poses a challenge.
That challenge stems from our twin identities as Americans and as Jews. As proud Americans, we cherish Thanksgiving as a family-centric holiday founded on the religious freedom offered by the American experience. The very freedom that enables us to thrive as Jews in this blessed country. As proud Jews we celebrate Hanukkah, the original victory for religious liberty, the fervor for which is a defining characteristic of the Jewish people through unbroken generations even to this very day – “BaZ’man HaZeh” as we say in the blessing when we light the menorah.
With such similarities in theme and convergence of spirit, the challenge is to resist homogenizing the two together.
Both the challenge and how to overcome it are informed by the unique drivers of these dates, the sun and the moon.
Americans dance to the beat of the sun, which determines national holidays like Thanksgiving. The moon is something that triggers the tides, provides romantic backdrops, or is a handy, if inconsistent, nightlight.
Jews, however, are perpetually at a dance where the rhythm of each sphere lays down a different beat. Our daily revolution around the sun defines when we pray and when Shabbat arrives. But it’s the moon’s monthly revolution around us that determines the Jewish holiday calendar, including Hanukkah.
Jews dance to the beat of the sun and the moon, both created with the same utterance of God. As Jews we use both of them to pattern time. They play off of each other, but they are not the same. We need each of them. We need both of them. But we keep them separate. For as much as we love each one of them, if they were to fuse into one, life would end.
So when we gather for Thanksgiving on the solar date of November 28, we will celebrate around the table as proud Americans. And when darkness descends and dessert comes around, the calendar will shift to the lunar date of 26 Kislev. The same people around the same table will then light the second Hanukkah candle in the menorah and set it in their window with blessings and songs as proud Jews.
We can dance to both beats. We will celebrate Thanksgiving. We will celebrate Hanukkah. They play off of each other, but they are not the same. We thrive with each of them, but we acknowledge each one separately. For as much as we love each one of them, if they were to fuse into one, the dance would end.
Robert Lichtman is executive director of The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life.