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Historic Hannukkah overlaps Thanksgiving


Rabbi Krinsky from Lubavitch of New Hampshire, leads the annual lighting of the Menorah to kick off Hanukkah at the State House Wednesday. Thomas Roy/Union Leader 

MANCHESTER — Get ready to light the menurkey.

For the first time since 1888 — and the last time until the year 79,811 according to the Jewish website www.chabad.org — the first day of the Jewish holiday of Hannukkah will coincide with the American observance of Thanksgiving. By contrast Hanukkah, which commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean military victory over the Syrians in 168 B.C., typically occurs closer to Christmas, in December.

The overlap is due to an astronomical oddity.

Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November, and Nov. 28 is the latest that day can fall on a calendar. Nov. 28 is also the earliest possible start for Hannukkah.

The full explanation is complicated, and only adds to the magic of the day. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which repeats every seven years, the Jewish lunar calendar repeats on a 19-year-cycle and is corrected by leap months (to ensure Passover falls in the spring) seven times each cycle. It also falls about a day behind the Gregorian calendar four times per 1,000 years.

"This year, for some bizarre reason, Hannukkah is particularly early in the cycle, as early as it possibly can be on the solar calendar," said Rabbi Beth Davidson of Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester.

Hannukkah won't fall again on Nov. 28 for more than a century, and that date will be a Monday.

In some ways, the holiday mashup is a natural fit. Jewish holidays often revolve around food, and Thanksgiving is built around a family feast. Traditionally, Hannukkah foods, such as latkes and jelly-filled doughnuts, are fried to commemorate the miracle of the oil.

"More than the oil lasting for eight days, the Jewish community is grateful for the miracle of survival," said Rabbi Levi Krinsky of Chabad Lubavitch in Manchester. "And Thanksgiving, beyond just stuffing oneself, is about really being grateful also for survival."

"It's one of those strange confluences of calendars that happens to bring together Thanksgiving and Hannukkah, a holiday which celebrates religious freedom from a Jewish standpoint, and Thanksgiving celebrates freedom from an American standpoint," said Rabbi Davidson. "They are both family occasions, occasions that have food associated with them. It's a chance to be creative and add a wrinkle to both holidays."

Thanksgiving was quickly adopted by assimilating Jews as the American holiday that most resonated with them, Krinsky said, because the story of Thanksgiving is one of immigrants looking for religious freedom and flourishing.

Americans give thanks for the Pilgrims' survival against the harsh conditions of nature, while the Jewish people are grateful for surviving religious oppression, Davidson said.

"If Christmas has encouraged us to adopt gift-giving and show generosity, a great Jewish value, perhaps Thanksgiving can encourage us to express gratitude," writes Rabbi Eric Cohen of Temple Israel in his monthly newsletter. "Perhaps this Chanukah we might take time to really think about the things for which we are thankful, another wonderful Jewish value."

This holiday hookup, dubbed and trademarked "Thanksgivukkah" by suburban Boston, Mass., social media marketer Dana Gitell, has given birth to hilariously quirky merchandise and marketing opportunities.

For $99, you can send a gift basket with challah (a Jewish braided bread), assorted dried fruits, Hanukkah gelt, Thanksgivukkah chocolates and black and orange (rather than black and white) cookies. For $36, you can buy a Woodstock-inspired Thanksgivukkah 2013 T-shirt.

A dreidel "balloonicle" (balloon vehicle) will make its debut at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York.

"This year we have eight days of Thanksgiving," said Davidson. "I couldn't think of a better match."

pfeely@unionleader.com


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