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Chanukah and Thanksgiving: A Brief History

Chanukah and Thanksgiving: A Brief History

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Question:

Is it true that . . .

  • Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah this year,
  • it’s never happened before, and
  • it will never happen again?

Answer:

Yes, no, and maybe.

Yes, this Chanukah, if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, you’ll want to light the second candle of the menorah at your turkey dinner.

No, it’s not true that this has never happened before. Let’s work this through step by step:

Chanukah was declared a Jewish national holiday 2178 years ago. Thanksgiving was declared a national American holiday on the last Thursday of every November by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Before then, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different dates in different states, so we won’t count those. But, using the Chabad.org Date Converter, you will see that Thanksgiving coincided with the first day of Chanukah on November 29, 1888. It also coincided with the fourth day of Chanukah on November 30, 1899.

On November 28, 1918, Thanksgiving was on Chanukah eve. But since it’s still Thanksgiving until midnight, and Jewish days begin at night, that would still mean that Jewish Americans would have eaten their turkeys that Thanksgiving to the light of their first Chanukah candle.

It gets more complicated. Originally, Thanksgiving was always on the last Thursday of November. In 1939, FDR decided it would be good for the economy to push Thanksgiving back a little, so he declared the fourth Thursday of that November to be Thanksgiving—even though there were five Thursdays to November that year. In 1942, that became federal law. But not all states went along with it. As late as 1956, Texas was still celebrating Thanksgiving a week later than the rest of the country.

Which means that if you were a Texan Jewish family, you would be eating that turkey to the light of your first Chanukah light in 1945 and 1956.

Will it ever happen again? Interesting question. If we project forward, assuming that:

  1. Thanksgiving will be celebrated on the same schedule,
  2. The people celebrating Thanksgiving will continue following the Gregorian calendar without modification,
  3. The Jewish calendar will continue on its current 19-year cycle,

. . . then the next time the two will coincide would be when Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah eve in the year 2070. That would repeat itself in 2165.

Let’s chart this out:

Thanksgiving Dates

Chanukah Dates

11/29/1888

Kislev 25, 5649—2 candles that night

11/30/1899

Kislev 29, 5660—5 candles

11/28/1918

Kislev 24, 5679—1 candle

11/29/1945 (Texas only)

Kislev 24, 5706—1 candle

11/29/1956 (Texas only)

Kislev 24, 5717—1 candle

11/28/2013 (you are here now)

Kislev 25, 5774—2 candles

11/27/2070 (theoretically)

Kislev 24, 5831—1 candle

11/28/2165 (theoretically)

Kislev 24, 5926—1 candle


You’ll notice that these dates are getting further and further apart. That’s not just FDR’s fault. Both the Gregorian calendar and the Jewish calendar are slowly drifting in relation to the actual solar year—but at different rates. After 2165, Chanukah would have completely drifted out of November—unless one of these calendars (or Thanksgiving) is changed.

The most important codification of the laws of the Jewish calendar was written by Maimonides in the 12th century. The standard medieval commentary to that text points out that the calendar is set up in such a way that eventually it will self-obsolesce. By the year 6000 (that’s 2240 on the Gregorian calendar), the holidays—most importantly, Passover—will start falling in the wrong seasons.

His conclusion: Before that time, Moshiach is expected to arrive and gather the Jews from the diaspora. At that point we will return to establishing the calendar on a month-by-month basis, as was done originally, before the current diaspora.1

Yes, making appointments is going to be a bit of a challenge, but there will certainly be solutions. At any rate, the benefits far exceed the inconvenience.

One thing is certain, however, as Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman wrote in the 13th century:2 We will forever continue to light the Chanukah lamps for eight nights, every Chanukah. Some lights can never be extinguished.


For more on the connection between Thanksgiving and Chanukah, read Thanksgiving Meets Chanukah.


Video: In 1984, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Rebbe, of righteous memory, highlighted some of the correlations between Chanukah and Thanksgiving in a public address:

FOOTNOTES
1. Peirush to Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Kiddush ha-Chodesh 9:11. See also Ittim le-Binah, Maamar 12; Torah Sheleimah vol. 13, Sod ha-Ibbur, ch. 2.
2. In his commentary to Numbers 8:2.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (40)
December 8, 2013
As a person of mixed Cherokee Indian, Scots, Irish, and Jewish, parentage, I object to any sincere religion, Jewish or Christian, wasting any time over Thanksgiving. How naive, how childishly in denial, to credit this holiday. The Indians saved the first incoming settlers, that is what happened, and the natives were repaid for their hospitality with the largest genocide in history. I have read scholarly accounts estimating between 12 to 80 million indigenous persons killed in the Americas, and the USA did a huge proportion of that extermination. It is obscene that any Jew, after the Nazi experience, would not see through and reject the false sanctimony of American Thanksgiving. Shame on you for playing games with genocidal reality. Without a massive genocide, no USA.
Jamie Moran
London
December 7, 2013

Actually as I point out on my blog, as of 1910, 15 Adar II was on March 26, after the equinox. If the Sanhedrin had been re-instituted, that may have been the year that the leap year would have been postponed to the following year. This last occurred in 2005 and will occur again in 2024. If leap year would be postponed, then since Passover would be March 26, the following year would have Passover before the equinox (March 16) which would not be allowed. Thus, that year would be a leap year and 15 Adar II would be on March 16 and Passover would be the following month on April 15. Similarly, Chanukah following the “skipped” leap year would be November 26 instead of December 26, while the Chanukah following the “new” leap year would be approximately 20 days later or December 6. This would reset the 19 year cycle and we would have to recalculate the following years.

Of course for this to occur, the Mashiach would have come and we would no longer be in exile. As a result, Thanksgiving would no longer be immediately relevant.
Sabba Hillel
December 5, 2013
The European settlers in Connecticut who first celebrated Thanksgiving, although that was only distantly related to the current annual holiday, were a variety of Christian; but, the Native Americans that they celebrated it with were not. By the time we get to Washington and the first national celebration of a Thanksgiving day his proclamation was inclusive, and there were quite a few Jews in the country taking part in that first celebration. When it was formalized as an annual holiday by Lincoln he was also inclusive (and probably not Christian himself). Statistically certainly more Christians than Jews have celebrated Thanksgiving over the years because more Americans are Christian than Jewish; but, that doesn't make it a Christian holiday. Thanksgiving is not only an American holiday; but, it is quite compatible with Jewish culture and beliefs - being thankful for the year's successes. It also is not an anti-Native American holiday even if the early idealism faded into conflict later.
Stewart Eastman
Abita Springs
December 3, 2013
Assimilation is Assimilation, and changing the name of the holiday does not change the original ideal.
TO: Yehoshua Friedman
Kochav Hashachar, Israel

I suggest that you do some research about American holidays before showing your ignorance. The pilgrims were Christians. Who do you think they were thanking for their success of illegal invasion? They were thanking their trinity. Therefore if you can accept that the Christian's Thanksgiving Day is their worship of Hashem, than you can accept their Christmas is the worship of your Messiah and their messiah. Do not put your head in the sand or lie to yourself and expect me or anyone with common sense to do as you do for the sake of assimilation. A Christian holiday is a Christian holiday. Enjoy it but stop lying to yourself.
Anonymous
December 2, 2013
Calendar Until Mashiach -- USA Who Knows?
I strongly object to the comment equating of Thanksgiving with Xmas. Thanksgiving is an American civil holiday akin to the 4th of July or Memorial Day. It has nothing to do with Christianity. Other Christian countries do not celebrate it. It is a non-sectarian celebration of thanks to G-d for the bounty which he has given to all Americans. In the measure in which America is a just society, more Americans will have what to give thanks for. At the rate things are going, America, like empires of the past, becomes corrupt and ceases to exist as it once was. Let us pray for Jews to be faithful to the Torah and non-Jews to keep the Noahide Laws. If America can get back on track, perhaps the President of the US will one day great Mashiach.
Yehoshua Friedman
Kochav Hashachar, Israel
December 2, 2013
Anonymous
Obviously "Anonymous" is an ignorant youngster fed lies by Liberal public schools of late. There is NO truth to the statement The Original Thanksgiving was to celebrate the killing of American Indians and the taking of the tribal lands. NONE. Only the false textbooks printed in the last 20 or so years. By the same liars who say that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because we had bombed them with nuclear weapons first. Idiocy and re-writing of history by those who wish the greatest nation in the world harm, aka USA....
Anonymous
December 2, 2013
my birthday
thankyou Rabbi for e-mailing me, have you any suggestions as to what I could learn in the coming year due to the co-incidence of my birthday, thanksgiving, and Channukah, all falling on the same day, this year?
Ann Louise
Naples Fl
December 1, 2013
Thanksgiving is neither Christian nor Pagan
Thanksgiving, as declared by the US Presidents since Lincoln, has been neither Christian nor Pagan. It has always been a generic, broadly ecumenical holiday intentionally inclusive of all Americans. I suggest reading President Lincoln's proclamation yourself. I tried to paste it here but it was too long, and links are blocked, but you can easily Google it. You can also look up this year's proclamation by President Obama, which begins: "Thanksgiving offers each of us the chance to count our many blessings -- the freedoms we enjoy, the time we spend with loved ones, the brave men and women who defend our Nation at home and abroad. This tradition reminds us that no matter what our background or beliefs, no matter who we are or who we love, at our core we are first and foremost Americans."
Stewart Eastman
Abita Springs
December 1, 2013
Latkes and cranberry sauce
One thing I have learned from the coincidence is that cranberry sauce is great on latkes. I don't think it would ever have occurred to me to try the combination otherwise.
Stewart Eastman
Abita Springs
December 1, 2013
Thank you for your response.
Thank you Rabbi for emailing me. But you obviously have missed my point. My point is that a Jew should reject the Christians celebration of "Thanksgiving". If you accept Thanksgiving you should also accept Christmas, as part of your assimilation. Changing the meaning of a holiday in order to justify assimilation does not change the original intent to worship other gods. Thanksgiving was created by white European Christians to celebrate their slaughter of Native Americans and the theft of American lands. The holiday Christmas was original the pagans "Solstice" holiday that the Christians changed to "Christmas" to celebrate the birth of their white European pagan god Jesus. Regardless of the names, the intent to worship pagan gods remain the same, and is blasphemy and a transgression against Hashem. Based on your beliefs in Thanksgiving, your physical appearance, and your assimilation, how does Hashem or anyone, identify and distinguish you white Jews from white Christians?
Anonymous
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