A Once in a 77,798 Year Celebration
Yes, It's Kinda a Big Deal
You may have already guessed that Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal in Massachusetts, where the holiday began. That first meal between the pilgrims and the indigenous people? That happened not too far from my office. I’m writing from Boston, pretty close to Plymouth Rock, and the city and state are excited for the holiday, but maybe not the holiday as you know it. Mayor Thomas Menino declared November 27, 2013 Thanksgivukkah for the City of Boston. But, what’s Thanksgivukkah?
This year, for the first time in our lifetime, Thanksgiving (November 28) coincides with the first day of Hanukkah (the evening of November 27 through the night of November 28).
For most of us, it’s exciting. If you’re my husband, well…let’s rewind….
About two years ago, Benjamin, in the throes of geekdom, realized that Thanksgiving and the first night of Hanukkah would coincide in the year 5774 (according to the Hebrew calendar, that’s our 2013). His excitement simmered, but being new to American Thanksgiving (that’s right, folks, he’s a Canuck!), he didn’t act on it. He was still really excited about it, though. Like really, really excited.
Fast forward about a year or so, and he and his friends, many of whom could be XKCD characters (yay math geeks!) discovered a blog that demonstrates the specific rarity of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlapping. A monster was unleashed. Before long, he had blogged about it for work. He had found a Menurkey kickstarter. (Don’t worry, I didn’t allow him to invest our life savings in it.) He had purchased t-shirts. And he was trolling Twitter, correcting journalists misreporting the details of this once in many lifetimes occurrence.
On the one hand, he and I both believe that combining holidays lessens them – Chrismukkah, for example, cheapens both Christmas and Hanukkah’s meanings, no matter what Seth Cohen might think. But Thanksgivukkah is somehow different. Perhaps it’s because Hanukkah is a minor holiday, without significant religious meaning. Perhaps it’s because it removes Hanukkah from the “holiday season” (Christmas), allowing Jews to explain that, no, it’s not the Jewish Christmas. Perhaps it’s because we could read meaning into the overlapping holiday: both are about giving thanks and religious freedom.
On the other hand, that whole religious freedom thing… Hanukkah marks the story of a people who fought against their oppressors, refusing to assimilate both religiously and culturally. And yet, here we are in 2013, with the majority of American Jews celebrating Thanksgiving, and living largely assimilated lives. What do we make of this? How do we acknowledge the other, horrifying side of the Thanksgiving story where many lost their fight against eventual assimilation? We allow ourselves to celebrate this hybrid holiday with reverence to that time.
We remain thankful for our religious freedom. And we celebrate knowing that we won’t have another chance to mark this momentous occasion for another 77,798 years. (The year 79,811 is the next time Hanukkah will start on Thanksgiving.) Phew.
Now, if only I could find the candles for my menurkey.
Stephanie Carey Maron is the Executive Assistant for the Office of the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association.