SHERIDAN — For some celebrants, the day will be an “eating event,” a time to combine two beloved holidays and their food traditions into one giant feast.
For others, the combination is less about the food and more about aligning the spiritual aspects of both holidays into an overarching prayer of thanksgiving — for food, family, freedom and spiritual restoration.
Either way, the calendar quirk that has placed Thanksgiving and the first full day of Hanukkah, an eight-day Jewish holiday also called The Feast of Dedication, on the same day is being celebrated for its rarity.
It last happened in 1888, and by some calculations is not expected to happen again on the first full day of Hanukkah for 77,798 years.
Thanksgiving fell on Hanukkah Eve in 1918 and then again, in Texas only, in 1945 and 1956. Thanksgiving is expected to align with Hanukkah Eve again in 2070 and 2165, according to an article on Chabad.org.
Hanukkah begins at sundown each year on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which falls any time between late November and late December on the Gregorian calendar. In 1899, Thanksgiving fell on the fifth full day of Hanukkah.
But Thanksgiving on the first full day of Hanukkah is a rare occurrence that has left many wondering this year how the two holidays will fare sharing the spotlight.
A food mash-up
“The work in the kitchen will be doubled,” Sam Wiseman, Rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Casper, said.
Jewish Americans will likely mix the foods of the two holidays into one mash-up dinner. Served alongside turkey, stuffing and pies will be latke, a potato pancake, Sufganiyat, fried jelly donuts, and other fried dishes that commemorate oil, which is an important aspect of Hanukkah.
Some Jewish cooks have created recipes for pumpkin latkes and turkey brined in manischewitz, a kosher Jewish wine, further combining the foods of the two holidays.
Even the names of the holidays have been smooched into one moniker: Thanksgivukkah.
“It’s silly ridiculousness, but it’s a cute idea,” Wiseman said, noting that most Jewish Americans have learned to weave their religion almost seamlessly into life in a secular culture.
Wiseman did stress, though, that Hanukkah is a political holiday, not a religious holiday, much like Thanksgiving is a secular holiday. It is not included in the Jewish Bible, the Tanukh, which is essentially the Old Testament.
In Sheridan, it is unclear how many Jews will be celebrating Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. City-Data.com lists the Jewish population at 0 percent, but Wiseman said he thought there were at least a couple Jewish families here. However, members of One 4 Him Ministries, a congregation that believes in Jesus but also studies the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith, do celebrate Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays even though they are not Jewish.
A spiritual renewal
Co-pastor of One 4 Him Ministries Sharon Voltz said for her Hanukkah and Thanksgiving do combine nicely, but in ways that go much deeper than the food mash-ups. She does not like the term Thanksgivukkah.
“We need to look at both respectfully in their own light,” Voltz said. “When you read about the price the Maccabees paid, it’s not right to make light of it and mix it with something focused on our nation alone.”
Voltz is referring to the atrocities that occurred during the Maccabean Revolt in 167-160 B.C. against the Seleucid Empire headed by King Antiochus IV. During that time, Antiochus had forbidden practice of Judaism and instigated a massacre of Jews. He desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by erecting an alter to worship the Greek god Zeus and sacrificing pigs in the temple.
A small band of Jews formed under the name Maccabees, which means hammer, and revolted against the oppression. During the revolt, Voltz said, Jews were killed in atrocious ways (skinned, scalped, dismembered and boiled alive) but refused to renounce their faith.
At the end of the successful revolt, the desecrated Holy Temple was restored and rededicated. Some accounts say a miracle was involved in the rededication.
When the temple was ready to be rededicated, the Jews could only find enough pure oil to keep the menorah, which must remain lit throughout the night every night, lit for one day. However, when they used the oil and lit the menorah, the candles burned for eight days, enough time to make a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah.
Following the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days, an eight-day festival to celebrate the miracle was declared. That is why Jews light one candle on the Hanukkiah for each of the eight days of Hanukkah, Voltz said. The Hanukkiah has nine candles, one to be lit each evening of Hanukkah and one “servant” candle that is taller than the rest and remains lit to guide the lighting of the other candles.
But really, Voltz said, for her Hanukkah is about much more than eating fried food and lighting candles, noting that Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication in John 10:22-23 in the Bible.
“Today, we are the temple of God if he lives in our heart. But there is such a move to destroy our bodies, our temples, and keep them from being holy,” Voltz said. “Celebrating Hanukkah for eight days puts us in remembrance that we are that temple that is being desecrated. Each day we light a candle, it gets brighter, and it’s a reminder to be a brighter light ourselves.”