Let's Celebrate the Convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah

Latkes With Cranberry Sauce Make for Perfect Holiday

kurt hoffman

By Gerald L. Zelizer

Published November 13, 2013, issue of November 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

American Jews shouldn’t fret too much at this year’s awkward overlap of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. Sure, it may require some culinary dexterity at Thanksgiving dinner. But thematically, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are an even more perfect fit than Hanukkah and Christmas.

This year’s confluence is a once-in-about-2,000-lifetimes experience. Hanukkah and Thanksgiving on the same day last happened in 1861, except that Thanksgiving wasn’t established until 1868! And the next time the first day of Hanukkah will happen on Thanksgiving — Thursday, November 28 — will be in the year 79,811. Who can plan that far in advance? So let’s enjoy this solar and lunar overlap and celebrate all that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving have in common. Religiously, there is a direct line connecting Thanksgiving, Sukkot and Hanukkah. Here’s how it works.

American Thanksgiving had a close affinity to biblical Sukkot. Both holidays included the theme of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. It’s likely that the pilgrims who linked their migration and experience with the ancient Israelites learned to thank God for their harvest from the stories they read in what they called the Old Testament.

And Sukkot, in turn, was very much linked to Hanukkah. In fact, Hanukkah may have actually been Sukkot. The Second Book of Maccabees records that after the Maccabees cleansed and rededicated the Temple, “the sanctuary was purified on the twenty-fifth of Kislev (Hanukkah). The joyful celebration lasted for eight days. It was like Sukkot, for they recalled how only a short time before they had kept the festival while living like animals in the mountains, they observed the joyful celebration, which lasted for eight days. And so they carried lulavim and etrogim and they chanted hymns to God, who had so triumphantly led them to the purification of the Temple.”

So Hanukkah was probably a delayed Sukkot, with its theme of Thanksgiving spilling over from the harvest into the cleansed and rededicated Temple. The overlap of American Thanksgiving with the Sukkot/Hanukkah Thanksgiving, then, is not a calendrical oddity, but a calendrical tour de force.

We are accustomed to Hanukkah’s proximity to Christmas and to the influence of that holiday on some of the cultural celebrations of Hanukkah. In reality, Christmas and Hanukkah are thematically opposite. Hanukkah celebrates the affirmation of Torah through both a war against the Syrians and a civil war. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, whom Paul and the early church fathers understood as replacing the authority of the Torah. On the other hand, Thanksgiving, Sukkot and Hanukkah all share a theme of giving thanks: in the first two, for the harvest; in the last, for the rededication of the Temple.

So here’s to giving thanks for this unusual but perfect confluence. It’s not just the culinary ease of substituting latkes for sweet potatoes with the turkey. There is a core message that links them together beautifully.

Gerald L. Zelizer is the rabbi of Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen, N.J.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.