What lessons can we learn from the history that makes Hanukkah and Thanksgiving coincide in 2013?
For the first time since 1888 the American day of Thanksgiving and the first of the eight days of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah occur on the same day in 2013. The reason they coincide this year and won’t again for another 70,000 plus years is because of how the Hebrew lunar year and our regular solar year overlay each other during this particular Hebrew leap year—but more about that at the end of the article.
Freedom and miracles of Thanksgiving
Both celebrations are national holidays that mark great events in the freedom and progress of their people, and both contain rich, spiritual overtones.
Thanksgiving became a regular, annual holiday in America on the last Thursday of 1863 when made official by President Abraham Lincoln. It was moved to the current date, the fourth Thursday in November, in 1941.
It commemorated the first feast of thanksgiving hosted by the early Pilgrims of New England in 1621. They honestly thanked God for blessing their fledgling colony with a good harvest and His miraculous interventions that ensured their survival. One of their great blessings from God was the freedom to follow their faith in worshipping Him. That blessing for Americans still exists, but intolerance is growing.
A profound belief, if not a full understanding, of the God of the Bible constitutes the deep spiritual overtone of Thanksgiving. America was founded on the spiritual premise that God exists and the Bible is His Word.
Freedom and miracles of Hanukkah
Hanukkah has origins of near-biblical proportions as well. By 330 BC, Alexander the Great had conquered all of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and the Middle East, including the ancient land of Israel. The Promised Land was then occupied by the Jews who represented the tribes of Judah (source of the term “Jew”), Benjamin and a considerable portion of Levi, the priestly tribe.
After Alexander died in the 323 BC, the Seleucid dynasty, based in Syria and descended from one of his generals, ultimately ruled the holy land. One of the Seleucid kings, Antiochus Epiphanes, launched a legal and military battle to end freedom of religion for the Jews and force them to adopt the Greek paganism of his culture. Under his onslaught, worshiping the God of the Bible would be outlawed.
Doesn’t this sound eerily like the militant atheism movement in modern America and other nations which have launched a legal battle to force the complete rejection of belief in God and the Bible today?
In 167 BC a brave priest called Mattathias, father of five, fervent sons, rejected the Greco-Syrian command to cease worship of the true God of the Bible. He and his followers were forced to flee to the mountains where they began a war to oust the foreign leaders. This was called the Maccabean Revolt and was largely led by Mattathias’ son Judas Maccabees—which meant Judas the Hammer. His dynamic leadership was a hammer that pounded the Greco-Syrian forces to ultimate defeat.
In 165 BC the Maccabean priests recaptured and expediently rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem, but had only one day’s worth of the necessary, consecrated oil for the lamp the priests were to keep burning perpetually (see Exodus:27:20-21). That single cruse of oil lasted for eight days—clearly a miracle. Thus, Hanukkah meaning “Dedication” in Hebrew became a powerful symbol of God providing the opportunity for His people to worship Him freely—not unlike the American Thanksgiving Day.
When calendars coincide
The reason that the beginning of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving in this year of 2013 is most interesting. America and most of the modern world operate on a variation of the Roman Gregorian solar calendar named after Pope Gregory XIII who instituted it in 1582. As a solar calendar it is based on the earth’s rotation around the sun.
However, the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar based on the movement of the moon around the earth, and recognized by the vast bulk of Jewish people. That’s why it’s sometimes called the Jewish Calendar. It is how the biblical Holy Days and the Jewish historical holidays—like Hanukkah—are calculated.
As a lunar calendar, the months change on the new moon. To keep the biblical and national festivals in their solar-based seasons an extra month is added every several years to make a leap year. The Hebrew calendar is in the midst of a leap year and Thanksgiving is later in November than usual, consequently the two festivals coincide.
True Christians today faithfully observe the commanded annual festivals of God (see Leviticus 23) which are overlaid on the solar, civil calendar by careful computation. Jesus, His apostles and the early Church likewise kept these same days.
God gave the Jews (which in their turn included the Maccabees) a very important responsibility as the apostle Paul was inspired to point out: “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans:3:1-2). The “oracles” of God are the “words” of God, or as we refer to it, the Word of God—the Bible.
Maintaining God’s appointed calendar has long been the responsibility of the Jews so, as Jesus Christ said, “…the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (see John:4:21-24), and would know when to observe His annual days commanded and listed in His Word. The official Jewish maintenance of the Hebrew calendar also identifies the dates for Jewish national holidays.
America’s Thanksgiving Day and Jewish Hanukkah (labeled Thanksgivukkah in the popular media) remind us to give God thanks for all His mercy and blessings.
Those who try to convince themselves that God doesn’t exist have voluntarily blinded themselves to the obvious. May they prove God exists and find relief from trying to carry the burden of the universe on their own shoulders! And may their eyes be thus opened to the greatness and glory of the true and eternal God of the Bible—and give Him thanks!