Thanksgiving was declared a national American holiday on the last Thursday of every November by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Before then, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different dates in different states, which is something that I, as a Canadian, didn't know. But Chanukah and Thanksgiving are rarely celebrated on the same day. Thanksgiving did, in fact, coincide with the first day of Chanukah on November 29, 1888, less than 20 years after Thanksgiving was declared an American holiday. It also coincided with the fifth day of Chanukah on November 30, 1899.
On November 28, 1918, Thanksgiving was on Chanukah eve. But since it’s still Thanksgiving until midnight, and according to Jewish law our days begin at sunset, that would still mean that Jewish Americans would have eaten their turkey, stuffing and sweet potato pie that Thanksgiving to the light of their first Chanukah candle. Being a rather rare event - similar to Haley's Comet - the next time the two will coincide would be when Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah eve in the year 2070 and then again in 2165.
I think it's rather befitting that these two holidays fall on the same night. Chanukah, although mostly celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, the exchanging of gifts, heated games of dreidel and the gluttonous eating of all things deep-fried, Chanukah really is about being grateful and thankful for what our people have endured over the centuries and the endless hope that we as a people have clung to with iron fists.
Despite being a Canadian, where our Thanksgiving means nothing more than a bank holiday and a day off from school, I've become a huge fan of the American Thanksgiving since moving to Israel. Every year I order my 14 lb. turkey two weeks in advance and scour the web for all Thanksgiving-related recipes. My kids remind me every year to make my herb stuffing (it's awesome!) and my maple-glazed roasted carrots (got to fit my Canadian maple syrup in there somewhere...), my pecan or deep dish apple pie and my friend Michelle brings her much-requested amazing sweet potato casserole with a crunchy sweet topping... It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without those dishes gracing my table. And we celebrate it with the same good friends each year, yet another couple that is ironically a Canadian (Montreal)-Chicago couple, so there are three adult Canadians at the table feasting on turkey on this American holiday while living in Israel. It's pretty funny...
While sitting in the hospital by my grandfather's bedside tonight, I thought about this Chanukah and Thanksgiving calendar phenomena and decided to jot down eight reasons that I, personally, am thankful for this holiday season; eight reasons in correlation to the eight days of Chanukah:
1. I am super grateful and thankful that I've had this time to spend with my family these last two weeks. Like life, there are always good times mixed with difficult ones and although I came for my nephew's bar mitzvah, I've also spent many hours in Sunnybrook hospital with my grandparents as they weather through this challenging time. It's been time well spent.
2. I'm grateful and thankful that my oldest daughter, Nava, will be able to spend this Chanukah with us before she goes into the army.
3. I'm thankful that not only do I live in Israel, but that I live in an amazing historical location. My town, Chashmonaim, is named for the famous Maccabee family who lived in this part of Israel - what better role models can you get but the courageous Jews who fought our enemies and defended our people?
4. I'm grateful and thankful that every year at this time, my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary - it's truly a gift to be in love with your best friend - this year will be our 21st...
5. I'm grateful and thankful that my kids still like singing Maoz Tzur when we light candles every night and that I still have one child that gets super excited about playing dreidel and forces us all to sit down together to play at least one game.
6. I'm thankful that this year we will be sharing our Thanksgiving/Chanukah dinner again with our same friends. Sharing is what every holiday is about and I hope we continue to do so for years to come.
7. After spending these last two weeks in freezing Toronto with temperatures that dipped below zero, I'm grateful that I will be spending Chanukah in a warmer - albeit wetter - locale. I know that whileThanksgiving is usually synonymous with early Christmas decorations, flashing Christmas lights, snowmen, hot apple cider and colorful thick woolen scarves, I'm thrilled to leave all this behind and rip off my tights, my down coat and my gloves and maybe - if it's not raining - slip on a pair of flip-flops....
8. I'm especially grateful that both Chanukah and Thanksgiving coincide this year so my inevitable weight gain is concentrated in one short week and is not spread out over several weeks....
What are you thankful for this Chanukah/Thanksgiving?