Halley’s comet swings the Earth about every 75 years. God willing, most of us will experience that event.
All of us, this week, will experience a once in forever event: Thanksgiving and Hanukkah simultaneously. This week, Thanksgiving evening is also the first and only time in our lives in which the candles of Hanukkah will also be lit. The Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles, with occasional adjustments, so Jewish holiday dates shift each year. This year, Hanukkah “falls early.” Unlike Halley’s comet, which flew by Earth in 1986 and is expected to return in 2061, the next time Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will coincide is about 75,000 years from now.
Given this doubled up holiday, both celebrating successful struggles for religious freedoms, this week seems like an opportune moment to pause and further our personal conversation with God.
Hanukkah dates back to second century BCE, as described in the Books of the Maccabees. Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication, marks a time when fierce Hebrew Maccabees fought back against the forcible Greek effort to assimilate the Jews and suppress Hebrew religious observances. This increasing oppression eventually sparked a successful uprising and reclamation of Jewish religious practice.
Does this sound familiar?
There are many similarities with Thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving has evolved during the years, and does not have the eight-branched menorah as a symbol, its roots come from a struggle for religious freedom and ongoing survival conducted by the Pilgrims, who fought back against religious oppression. Thanksgiving is a celebration of their stiff-necked persistence and survival, as they held fast to maintain their beliefs.
Every year, advertising campaigns raise their volume. It may feel that Thanksgiving is supposed to be just a stopping point before heading to the mall or online to experience the oncoming shopping frenzy. It does not need to be so. We can refuse to allow our beliefs to be overrun, reaching instead for moments of peace and reflection during this time. This is a time of double blessing, with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and we should not allow our beliefs to be drowned in the cacophony around us.
This can be a time of personal reflection and appreciation on the gifts we have received from God.
In these times, it’s harder than ever to hold onto one’s faith. There are so many external pressures to conform to some other, more secular, image with our co-workers and perhaps even our families. While religiously observant people in York County are not beaten, murdered or additionally taxed for expressing those beliefs, there are more subtle ways to silence the expression of religious belief. Mockery, disdain and awkward questions are more modern forms of secular pressure which can greet a personal display of a hijab, a Star of David or even a cross.
Even on Thanksgiving Day, the pressure to “do the turkey thing and get in line at the mall” can step on and silence that precious time in which one can reflect upon and give thanks for the amazing gifts that come with our life, loves and family.
This is not to suggest a turning away from secular activities, and enjoyment of the holiday crush, if that is your custom. In equal measure, however, one’s personal, internal and strongly felt faith should also be enjoyed, free from either mockery or uncomfortable silences. Especially in this time of political and financial turmoil, one needs to stand fast and create moments of faith, with appreciation and peace, remembering a common history of religious belief and independence.
Rabbi Hillel said “if not now, when?” This double portion of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will only happen once. What better time to freely celebrate one’s faith in the Divine?
Edie Yakutis works with Ritual Life at Temple Solel in Fort Mill. Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org.