Turkey and a Menorah : What could be better?
"It was first instituted by the Puritans who were reforming all the church holidays," he said. "It usually happened around Harvest time. It 1863...Abraham Lincoln said there will be an annual day of Thanksgiving in Nov. and in 1941, Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday in Nov."
This date moves because calendars are a way to fix time and place, but they are not all the same, he said. For example, Thanksgiving is based on the Gregorian calendar, but Hanukkah is part of the Jewish calendar, that runs on a 19 year cycle and every 7 years is a leap year, where a whole month is added. The Jewish year is currently 5774.
"Hanukkah is falling where is always does, on the 25 of Kislev...this year is a leap year," he said. "Which means Passover will be back to where we would normally experience it in the spring. If we did not have a corrective in the calendar, time would keep slipping, and slipping...nothing would make sense."
The convergence of the two holidays has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. Manischewitz, a kosher food company, has sponsored recipe contests to combine traditional Thanksgiving recipes with traditional Hanukkah recipes, like stuffing latkas (potato pancakes) or pumpkin pie hamentashen (traditional Hanukkah pastries). However, Novak said while the best research he could find stated the holidays aligned sometime in the 1880s, because calendars and dates can change, he can't be sure if this event will line up again in 100 years, or 80,000 years like some have reported. Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting a candle each of the eight nights of the celebration on a menorah, remembering the oil in the temple that should have only lasted one night and instead lasted eight. The menorah used in this celebration, he said, has 8 branches, as well as a place for a helper candle used to light the others.
What Hanukkah commemorates, he said, is a story that was developed by the rabbis of the Diaspora created taking a war story of the Maccabees and the Greeks at the temple and turning it into a miracle story.
"When the Maccabees went to rededicate the temple...desecraeted by the Greeks...they found... an amount of oil that would only be enough to last for one day, but that cruse of oil lasted for eight days," he said. "And therefore we celebrate Hanukkah as a miracle...so Hanukkah became a story of light and miracles, as opposed to Jewish versus Greek conquest of the temple in Jerusalem."
Novak said the original Hanukkah was actually a Thanksgiving, so the combination of the two holidays is very fitting. During the time the temple was occupied by the Greeks, the Jews could not celebrate the Jewish thanksgiving celebration of Sukkot, he said. When they regained access to the temple, Sukkot was commemorated two months and ten days later than it is celebrated, for eight days in the temple on the 25 of Kislev.
"Many people who look at the story of Hanukkah and how the rabbis reinterpreted it, see it actually as a way to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which is Jewish Thanksgiving," Novak said. "It is a happy coincidence because we are bring together two holidays of thanksgiving."
Irene Glazer and Elinor Katz are both members of Israel Congregation of Manchester and are both preparing for the double holiday. Glazer and her family have traditionally celebrated Hanukkah together after Thanksgiving, but she said this year there is more pressure to produce everything. "It is very important that we are together, to light the Hanukkah candles and exchange presents," she said. "Usually the night after Thanksgiving, we make latkas fresh, with the children helping and learning and eating them as soon as they come out of the pan."
This year, she said, she will be making her latkas in advance to eat at the Thanksgiving meal, instead of eating them right out of the oil. Usually, she serves a dairy meal with smoked fish [Jews that keep kosher do not eat meat and dairy products together] after Thanksgiving to accompany the latkas and sour cream. However, at Thanksgiving, because turkey will be served she said she plans on making apple sauce, with apples grown on her family's farm, eat wih the potato pancakes.
Katz said she is planning on adding cranberries to her apple sauce and is also serving latkas with the Thanksgiving meal. She said some of her decor may change, like arranging chocolate turkeys along with her blue Hanukkah table clothe. "I'll give the kids their Hanukkah gelt [either real or chocolate coins], and of course light the Hanukkah candles," she said. "It's about food, both holidays are about the food."
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