On Thursday, Jewish families residing in the US are in for a double treat - Thanksgiving and the first full day of Hanukkah, which begins today (November 27th), at sundown. Also known as the Festival of Lights, the last time these two special celebrations coincided was in 1888 and the next? Probably not for at least another 77,798 years, which means that for those that observe both, this is a once in a lifetime celebration!
The reason for this convergence is all to do with the way the dates worked this year. Thanksgiving, which by law is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, is a little late, while the 25th day of Kislev, (the evening the holiday officially begins), which is determined by the lunar calendar, is the earliest it can be.
But given that Hanukkah is almost like an extended eight-day version of Thanksgiving in terms of the delicious food that families eat, the meeting of the two holidays is being welcomed by most with open arms. Kids are especially thrilled given that the early appearance means an extended Christmas because believe it or not, one of the rituals of this fun festival is receiving gifts every single day, for eight days!
The folklore behind this all-important Jewish holiday dates back 2,200 years, when a Greek king tried to impose his culture on his people despite that fact that most of them were Jewish. The residents rebelled and fought for three years before reclaiming the temple on Jerusalem's Mount Moriah. Inside, they discovered a small amount of oil, which they estimated would keep the temple light burning for one day. To their surprise, the oil lasted for eight days, which is why Hanukkah is celebrated for that length of time.
Thanks to the legend, the most important ritual of the holiday is the lighting of the Menorah, a holder that fits nine candles. Eight candles are lit one at time, to mark each day of the festival. The ninth, known as the Shamash (servant), is used to light the others. Over the years, Menorahs have become increasingly elaborate and unique. While in the past they have included ones carved out of chocolate, this year they have taken on a thanksgiving theme, with the traditional candleholders incorporating turkeys and even the Mayflower!
While families entertain themselves in many ways, the most traditional and popular game played is using a four-sided spinning top known as the Dreidel. The multiple player game entails each participant beginning with an equal number of game pieces - which range from candy to coins. Depending on their spinning prowess they can either lose a few or all their pieces to a mutual pot, or get everything that's accumulated inside, and be declared the winner.
As with most fun festivals, food is a big part of Hanukkah. While most years it largely comprises of favorites like Latkes, Challah and Sufganiyot, a jelly donut cooked in oil, this year there may have to be some compromises - Latkes or mashed potatoes? Challah or challurkey, (bread shaped like a turkey)? donuts filled with jelly or cranberries? No matter what is on the dinner table, it is bound to be delicious!
Happy Hanukkah or should we say 'Thanksgivukkah'!
Resources: about.com, wikipedia.org, news.yahoo.com