Thanksgivukah is a very rare event, so there’s cause enough for notice right there. But it’s also a most American celebration of our cultural diversity and wacky sense of fun.
First, the math: The Jewish calendar repeats on a 19 year cycle, and Thanksgiving repeats on a 7 year cycle. So the holidays should coincide roughly every 19×7, or 133 years. The last time this happened was 1880, but there is no evidence that Thanksgivukah was celebrated as such back then.
And here’s the twist. The Jewish calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the solar calendar, at a rate of 4 days every thousand years. While Hanukkah can now begin as early as November 28, after calendar drift, that date shifts to November 29. So the next time Hanukkah will fall on November 27 is 2146, which is, unfortunately, a Monday.
It gets even more complex. Depending on whether you’re counting from the first evening of Hanukkah, Wednesday, the 27th, or Thanksgiving itself, Thanksgivukah won’t come again until at least 2070. So you’d better eat your Wheaties if you want to see it.
The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple following Judah Maccabee's victory over the Seleucids, who were Hellenistic Greek kings in Asia. The victorious Maccabees could only find one small jug of oil whose seal remained intact, and although it only contained enough oil to sustain the Menorah for one day, it miraculously lasted for eight, by which time more oil was found. Traditionally Hanukkah is celebrated with a feast and eight days of little gifts.
Thanksgiving also commemorates survival. In this case, that of the Pilgrims making it through their first hard year in the New World. It was celebrated more or less informally, as a harvest feast, from the Pilgrims’ time on, until Lincoln decreed it a national holiday in 1863. It was, in fact, in gratitude for the Union victory at Gettysburg that the holiday was established. So these celebrations, from the get-go, have a few things in common, surviving wars and lean times, coming together to enjoy the small miracles of home and family.
Meanwhile, there will be festivals celebrating Thanksgivukah all over the country. For the first time, we’ll see a dreidel balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Cooking classes featuring everything from sweet potato latkes to cornucopias of chocolate gelt are being offered. The Internet is ablaze with recipes, T-shirts and even Thanksgivukah manicures.
The famous Grant Wood painting, American Gothic, depicts a dour couple in front of their house, the man holding a pitchfork, the wife looking irritated. It’s always been a prime target for comic makeover, and this new holiday has provided plenty of ammo. The man’s pitchfork is now replaced by a menorah and he’s wearing a beaver hat. The wife is in Pilgrim garb, slightly askew.
Gazing at this newly duded-up couple, and all the merriment surrounding it, has refreshed my gratitude. I won’t be giving thanks by rote this year.
As for a cornucopia of chocolate… well, this promises to be a good party.