This year, the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving, a coincidence that last happened in 1888 and will not occur again for 79,043 years, according to Jewish sources. Jews and Christians agree that "Thanksgivukkah" is not a contradiction but a fortuitous connection between holidays that both celebrate thankfulness to God and religious freedom.
"AJC has not conducted a formal study, but my general sense is that I don't think anyone is stressed about Chanukah overlapping with Thanksgiving," Michael Schmidt, New York City director for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), told The Christian Post in an interview on Wednesday. "I think people are sort of playful about it, as shown in the term 'Thanksgivukkah.'"
Schmidt emphasized the thematic connection between the two holidays. "Hanukkah this year, which celebrates the revolt of Judas Maccabeus for religious freedom, very nicely aligns with the holiday of Thanksgiving, where the Pilgrims celebrated religious freedom," he said.
"This thematic link of Thanksgiving – thanking God for the harvest – and Hanukkah, were Jews in the time of Antiochus fought for religious freedom," provides a unique opportunity for American Jews to celebrate their heritage, Schmidt added. "Normally, we celebrate Hanukkah around the time of Christmas," he acknowledged, but this connection with Thanksgiving only happens "approximately every 78,000 years, according to the statisticians."
He also emphasized the biblical basis for the first Thanksgiving. "I know that the Pilgrims, when they came to Massachusetts in 1620, were looking at it as the new Promised Land," he said.
Judith Mendelsohn Rood, a Jewish Christian and professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at Biola University, connected Hanukkah to one of Jesus' most important teachings. In an interview this week, Rood cited John 10:22-42, when Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem.
"In the Old Testament, there's the festival of tabernacles, where people lived in booths in the fields for eight days," Rood explained. In the time of Judas Maccabeus, the ruling Greeks would not allow the Jews to celebrate this feast. Once the Maccabees freed Israel from their rule, however, they celebrated Succoth late, and that gave rise to Hanukkah, Rood said.
The feast of tabernacles is about "God tabernacling among us – it's so messianic," Rood explained. During this feast, Jesus answered the question, "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" with the declaration "I and the Father are one" (John 10:24, 30).
Messianic Jew Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries, told CP that, according to tradition, the Pilgrim's first Thanksgiving was actually a celebration of this Feast of Tabernacles. "It's a common tradition that the Pilgrims though they were the new people of God in the new land," Glaser explained. "To celebrate God's faithfulness, they viewed the first Thanksgiving as the Feast of Tabernacles."
Glaser explained that this tradition, as well as the tradition of the eight candles of Hanukkah, may be brought into question, but Jesus' declaration "I and the Father are one" most certainly happened at the feast of Hanukkah in the temple at Jerusalem.
Some Jews find it distracting to have Hanukkah and Thanksgiving on the same evening, according to The Associated Press. But when asked if Messianic Jews find the juncture of the two holidays confusing or stressful, Glaser said, "No, I think everybody's amused." He mentioned hundreds of internet memes and hilarious YouTube videos (one posted below) using the rare conjunction to inspire laughter.
One video marks the significant event with nuclear explosions, Charlton Heston holding the Ten Commandments, and a Leonidas from "300" yelling "This...is...Thanksgivukkah!"
Aleeza Lubin, director of Jewish enrichment at the Jewish youth organization BBYO, said "the overlap of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving is a momentous occasion." Glaser described Thanksgivukkah as "a once-in-a-lifetime great fit for American Jews and American believers."