Earlier this week, I was asked about the convergence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving, commonly being referred to as Thanksgivukah. My initial thought was that it was going to be easy to decide on what kind of potato side dish I was serving for Thanksgiving dinner. On the surface, the two holidays have very little in common, except perhaps for the recent popularity of deep fried turkey. However, if we dig a little deeper, the connection between the two holidays is stronger than one would think, even if this overlap is an oddity of the calendar.
Chanukah’s origins lie in either the military victory over the Syrian-Greeks or the miracle of the oil depending upon which sources you want to look at (which one is accurate is a whole other conversation for another time). Chanukah gained its name, which means dedication, from the need to re-dedicate the Temple after it had been defiled by the Syrian-Greek government. With the re-dedication, they were able to celebrate Sukkot (an eight day holiday) during which the Maccabees had been too busy fighting the enemy. Sukkot is the holiday that many people have thought that Thanksgiving is modeled after. Whether this is historically accurate is debatable, but the two holidays share the importance of giving thanks, praising God, and taking stock of what we have.
This synergy between these holidays is what made my experience with our middle school students on Monday so poignant. As part of our Tikkun Olam program, a group of students traveled with Mrs. Foley and Ms. Stone to the Kosher Food Bank to help pack grocery bags of food for those in need. The students reflections’ about how thankful they were that their needs for food, shelter, and clothing were met were incredibly powerful and have stuck with me throughout this week. Just prior to Chanukah and Thanksgiving, our students were discovering what it meant to be thankful.
The convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah is more than an opportunity to fry traditional Thanksgiving foods in oil or to create turkey-shaped chanukiyot (Chanukah menorahs). It is a chance to explore the deeper meaning of these holidays. Perhaps, Thanksgivukah is not a silly mash-up of the two holiday names, but rather is a signal for dedicating ourselves to giving thanks.
Use the opportunity that the calendar provides us this year to to re-dedicate yourself to living a life of gratitude. As you light each candle this Chanukah, give thanks for the blessings that grace our lives. Enjoy the warmth of family, friends, and community as you eat your Thanksgiving feast and watch the dancing flames of the Chanukah candles.
Dr. Ari Yares