Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlap for the first time since 1888

“That really kind of summarizes to some extent why we get up in the morning—to appreciate our blessings, to do things to make this a better world.” – Stephen Leon, Rabbi and lecturer

Kristopher Rivera, Copy Editor

It’s a once in a lifetime event—or maybe more like once in many life times. Experts say this event will not occur again for more than 77,000 years.

“It’s very unique in the fact that this is the first time (since 1888),” said rabbi and English professor Stephen Leon. “Neither you or I will see it (again) in our lifetime.”

Thanksgiving and the first day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah will be rubbing elbows on Nov. 28—whereas Hanukkah usually falls on dates close to Christmas. The last time it happened was in 1888. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official U.S. holiday.

This rare occurrence is a result of the Gregorian calendar—the most widely used internationally—and the lunisolar Hebrew calendar, which follows the moon’s phases and solar year, and can have between 353 to 385 days per year.

Its uniqueness alone is something that Leon steps back to consider, along with what seems to be a good fit between two holidays.

“Thanksgiving is one of the most—out of all of the American holidays—the one that resonates most with the setting of Jewish observance because of the idea of thanking God for the blessings that we have and also the giving of ourselves to help others,” said Leon, who is teaching a course on introduction to Judaism.

“That’s really what Thanksgiving means to me as a rabbi and as an American and as a Jew,” Leon said. “That really kind of summarizes to some extent why we get up in the morning—to appreciate our blessings, to do things to make this a better world.”

Hanukkah is the commemoration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, after a victory of the Maccabean revolt over the Greeks. The kindling of the lights celebration comes from a miracle after a one-day supply of oil lasted eight nights in the Temple.

Jewish UTEP student, Esther Kimmelman, sophomore psychology major, can appreciate the rare occurrence of “Thanksgivukkah,” but she said there is a distinction between the two holidays.

“We have a clear designation of what Hanukkah means, a clear definition of what we’re celebrating for Hanukkah. Whereas Thanksgiving, the definition has changed over the years,” she said.

Andrew Cook, senior psychology major, sees no controversy with the event and thinks, “it’s really cool.”

“The original intent of Thanksgiving had much more spiritual meaning,” Cook said. “The Jews have a lot to thank God for, and as a Christian, I believe in the same God as the Jews do. We just have a different perspective about the Messiah.”

Leon said the convergence could help teach an appreciation for multiple traditions.

“There’s a value in learning from one culture to the next,” Leon said. “So it would seem to me that one of the things where Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincide is in this idea of educating people of different faiths how common we have certain traditions and values.”

Kristopher Rivera may be reached at [email protected]