Maccabees and Pilgrims: They have more in common than you think | Weekly Worship

By Glen Pickus, Temple Beth Or | Nov 27, 2013

When American Jews gather around their Thanksgiving tables tomorrow to share words of gratitude and enjoy a sumptuous meal, we will also be celebrating the holiday of Hanukkah.

After we finish our Thanksgiving meal, we will light candles to celebrate the second night of Hanukkah.

The coincidence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving last occurred in 1918 and had only occurred twice before that, in 1888 and 1899.

Although a calendar rarity, this year’s overlapping of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving is a thematically logical holiday partnering.

Unlike Hanukkah and Christmas, which have little in common yet are frequently erroneously portrayed as similar holidays, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving share a couple of traits.

Both holidays are primarily about thanking God for survival but also include recognition of the importance to fight against religious persecution.

Thanksgiving recalls the Pilgrims offering thanks to God for a successful harvest which ensured they wouldn’t be wiped out by the upcoming winter on the new continent.

On Hanukkah Jews give thanks to God for allowing the Maccabees to prevail against forced assimilation by the Syrians which, had they not won, would surely have wiped out Judaism.

Both holidays are also about fighting religious persecution. The Maccabees fought the Syrians for their religious freedom while the reason the Pilgrims were in the New World in the first place was because they had fled Europe for the opportunity to practice their faith as they saw fit.

Lighting Hanukkah candles on Thanksgiving is a rarity for several reasons.

First, because the Jewish calendar is based on lunar phases and has a 19-year cycle, its relationship to our sectarian solar-based Gregorian calendar is tenuous at best.

Then, there’s the fact Thanksgiving does not occur on a specific date but rather on the fourth Thursday of November.

Originally, when Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863, it was on the last Thursday of November. Franklin Roosevelt switched it to the fourth Thursday first in 1939, which became federal law in 1942.

With Roosevelt’s switch, the chances of celebrating Hanukkah and Thanksgiving at the same time become even more remote than before because now the latest possible date for Thanksgiving is Nov. 28, which happens to be the earliest possible date for Hanukkah.

The holidays will coincide two more times, in 2070 and 2165, and then never again.

Discussing the coincidence of the holidays can be ambiguous because while the Jewish calendar day starts at sunset, the Gregorian calendar day starts at midnight.

When the first day of Hanukkah seems to fall on the day after Thanksgiving, it actually starts at sunset on Thanksgiving day.  This is what will happen in 2070 and 2165.

Temple Beth Or, located at 3215 Lombard Ave., Everett, will hold its public Hanukkah service and candle lighting on the third night of Hanukkah, the day after Thanksgiving, at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29. The public is welcome to attend.

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