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Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chanukah 2013 -- The First and Only Coinciding of US Thanksgiving with Chanukah

As part of my religious holiday observance descriptions, I would like to share with you that the Jewish holiday of Chanukah for 2013 begins at sunset on Wednesday night November 27 and lasts for eight days concluding at sunset on Thursday December 5

Chanukah is one of the minor Jewish festivals, although it has received a great deal of emphasis in majority-Christmas countries because of its (usually) close proximity to the Christian celebration of Christmas. This year -- 2013 -- the US holiday of Thanksgiving coincides for the first time with the first day of Chanukah. To that end, I describe the significance of this dating first in this blog. After that, you will find details on the holiday of Chanukah itself.

Chanukah and Thanksgiving: A Once in Eternity Coincidence
For those in the United States, 2013 holds a particularly significant dating for Chanukah since this is the first -- and ONLY -- time that the first day of Chanukah has or ever will fall begin on the US secular holiday of Thanksgiving. 

This deserves some explanation.
Because the Jewish calendar follows the moon and so does not follow the standard solar secular calendar, the dates of Chanukah seem to travel between November and January. For example, in 2012, the holiday began on the night of December 8 and ended at sunset on December 16.  In fact, though on the Jewish calendar, the dates are always the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev through the 3rd of the Hebrew month of Tevet. 

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation
Thanksgiving was set by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 in the midst of the American Civil War (or War Between the States for those with Southern perspectives on the conflict). President Lincoln set the date as the fourth Thursday of November from there on.  

The Jewish calendar repeats on an approximately 19-year cycle.The date of Thanksgiving repeats on a 7-year cycle. From this, it logically follows that Thanksgiving and the first day of Chanukah would come together every 133 years (that is every 19 times 7 years).   The earliest possible date in the Gregorian (secular) calendar that Chanukah can fall in the existing system is November 28 (that is, the date on which it falls this year).
The last time that the Jewish calendar aligned in such a way that the first day of Chanukah fell on the fourth Thursday of November was in 1861. This was, therefore, two years before President Lincoln would set the date officially. This makes 2013 the first year in which Chanukah fell on the fourth Thursday of November. 

Logically, the next time this should occur would be in 133 years which would be the year 2146 in the secular calendar. That said, there is another factor. The Jewish calendar is slightly out of sync with the Gregorian calendar. The rate of change is actually approximately 4 days per every 1000 years (roughly one day each 250 years, although not exactly so). That change is actually set to occur within the next 133 years.  This means that for the next couple of 19-year cycles, Chanukah can still fall on November 28, but by time the complete cycle will have run its course, the Jewish calendar will have shifted so that the earliest the first day of Chanukah will be able to fall will be November 29. This would no longer allow the first day of Chanukah to fall on the fourth Thursday of November.

As a result, 2013 will be the first and only alignment of US Thanksgiving with the first day of Chanukah... with one exception. Assuming that the Jewish calendar will progress through the entire Gregorian calendar without modification (itself unlikely), the realignment over the cycle of 4 days change per 1000 years would make it possible to have the first day of Chanukah fall on the fourth Thursday of November 77,798 years (that is Thursday, November 28 in the year 79811).

Turkey-themed Menorah

Because of its uniqueness, many US Jews have made much of the unusual pairing of US Thanksgiving with the first day of Chanukah.
Many have good-humoredly called the holiday "Thanksgivukah" and many have combined decorations and the like for the two holidays.  This has resulted in turkey-themed menorahs (for what a menorah is, please see below). These so-called "menurkahs" have the turkey tail feathers as holders for the eight lights of Chanukah. 



Holiday Name
Another point of confusion is the spelling of the name.  Since many sounds in the Hebrew alphabet do not have an equivalent in the English alphabet, there is no accepted way to spell the holiday in English. This carries over even into Hebrew where it already has two spellings: both חנכה or חנוכ.   As a result, English spellings for the holiday have 12 variations in use today: Chanukah, Hannukah, Hanukah, Chanuka, Chanukkah, Hanuka, Channukah, Hanukka, Hanaka, Haneka, Hanika and Khanukkah. 

The word itself means “Dedication” in Hebrew, which itself is a shortening of chanukat ha-mizbeiach meaning “dedication of the altar” or chanukat ha-bayit meaning “dedication of the house” (in this case, the House of the Lord, the Temple in Jerusalem). In English, the holiday is commonly referred to as the “Festival of Lights” because of the candle-lighting ceremony.

A Minor Holiday

Chanukah is one of the minor festivals in Judaism.  As a result, while the holiday has been celebrated for centuries by Jews worldwide, it does not carry the importance of the Jewish New Year, Day of Atonement, Sukkot or Passover.  Chanukah then is not as important as the Christian Christmas. 

That said, though, it is important to note that Chanukah has become especially significant among Jews living in Christian countries, especially the United States, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina -- even among fairly non-religious or secular Jews --wanting to assimilate into the surrounding culture with an equivalent to the gift-giving season surrounding Christmas. 

Traditionally Jews exchanged gifts on Purim, and actually did not exchange gifts on Chanukah aside from small items for children (chocolate coins, called Chanukah gelt, are an example).  This is still largely the case among Jews in Israel, India and Moslem countries, as well as more traditional Jews in Europe and the Americas.

The History Behind the Holiday
Alexander the Great

Chanukah remembers the freedom from persecution by the Seleucid (Greco-Syrian) Empire in the 2nd century BC (or BCE). The Seleucids had tried to forcibly assimilate the Jews into Greek culture.  After Alexander the Great overthrew Darius III in 330 BC, Greeks ruled the entirety of the former Persian Empire, including what is now Israel. Following Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, his empire split up with one of his general’s Ptolemy I Soter (the “Saviour”) of Egypt, taking over the part of Alexander’s empire that had included Egypt and Israel while another general, Seleucus, taking over what had been Babylonia. The portion under Seleucus became the Seleucid Greek Empire.  Alexander the Great had allowed the free practice of all religions, including Judaism. This tradition of respecting freedom of religion was continued under Ptolemy I Soter. This practice of tolerance, however, was not a priority in the Seleucid Greek Empire.

Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid Greeks fought a series of wars (called the Syrian Wars), as the Seleucids tried to expand to the west. In 223 BCE, Antiochus III the Great ascended to the Seleucid throne, and successfully expanded his empire westward, winning the area that is now Israel, Lebanon and Syria in the Fifth Syrian War (202-195 BCE) taking Jerusalem in 200 BCE. When the Seleucid Greeks ousted the Ptolemaic Egyptians from Israel, the era of religious tolerance began to be erased.

The Seleucid Greeks prided themselves on the universalism of their culture and believed strongly that their values could be promoted throughout the world.  Moreover, most of the peoples the Greeks conquered readily assimilated to Greek culture. Indeed, before the Seleucid conquest of the region and the subsequent persecution of the Jews, the Ptolemaic Greeks had been quite successful in assimilating a large number of Jews. These assimilated Jews were called the Hellenist Jews. The Hellenist Jews gave up their religious practices but maintained and even shared with Greek society as a whole many of their cultural traditions (language, foods, non-religious tales). For Hellenist Jews, Greek culture was seen as progressive and modern.  Greeks and Hellenist Jews alike considered those Jews who held to their faith and did not assimilate to be zealots and unenlightened.  Many of the issues surrounding assimilation to various cultures throughout the centuries have been related to the Chanukah story as a result.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Antiochus III’s successor as Seleucid ruler was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-163 BCE). Antiochus IV Epiphanes (meaning “God’s manifestation”) found that those Jews who refused to assimilate became intolerable. Antiochus IV outlawed Jewish religious practice making it illegal to observe the Jewish Sabbath or circumcise children, and requiring, among other things, that Jews formally recognize the Greek deity Zeus as the supreme deity and dedicated the Temple at Jersulalem to Zeus. The Seleucids also required Jews to sacrifice and eat pigs (which Jews consider unkosher).  Jews who resisted were burnt at the stake, frequently with Torah scrolls wrapped around them to start the fire. In 167 BCE after the Jews resisted with force, Antiochus IV took extreme actions. According 2 Maccabees 5:11-14:

When these happenings were reported to the king, he thought that Judea was in revolt. Raging like a wild animal, he set out from Egypt and took Jerusalem by storm. He ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery.
As a side note, both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions consider both books of the Maccabees to be part of the Biblical canon. By contrast, neither Jews nor Protestants consider either of the two books of the Maccabees as canonical sources.

Significantly, the Jews were the only religion among the peoples that Antiochus conquered that he persecuted.  For example, after his conquest of Babylon, Antiochus III actually rebuilt many of the temples and infrastructure that had been destroyed.  Hellenic culture – generally considered one of the most enlightened in history – regularly incorporated values of other cultures into its own. 

The Focus of the Celebration

Chanukah celebrates the victory in 166 BC (or BCE) of the Hasmonean Jews – led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers – over the Seleucid (Greco-Syrian) Empire. However, as Judaism disdains war and therefore would not condone a holiday over a military event, the holiday focuses instead on the “dedication” (in Hebrew “Chanukah”) of the Temple in Jerusalem, which the Seleucids had desecrated by converting it into a center of idol-worship. 

The Menorah Lighting

The miracle of Chanukah occurred with the rekindling the menorah (candelabra) in the Temple. The Jewish Talmud explains that when the Maccabees removed the idols of Greek gods from the Temple and attempted to light the six-branched menorah in the Temple, they could find only enough consecrated oil to light the holy lamp for one day. The miracle came when – as Jewish belief holds -- the oil continued to burn for eight days until new consecrated oil could be obtained.  Hence, today Jews celebrate the holiday by lighting one candle on an eight-branched candleholder (called a menorah or chanukiya) each night for eight nights.

Chanukah Traditions

Potato latkes

Several traditions are associated with Chanukah.  During religious services, special psalms and prayers are recited as well.

Eating special foods is also part of the holiday. These include eating items made in oil such as potato pancakes called latkes. These are served with an accompaniment of sour cream or of something sweet (usually apple sauce or sugar). The latke itself is not particular Jewish in origin. The potato pancake made in the same manner as the Jewish latke is considered the national dish of Belarus and remains a traditional dish in Luxembourgish, German, Austrian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, Russian, Ukrainian and Latvian cuisines. Other cuisines (notably, Irish, Indian, Persian, Swedish and Swiss) have variations of potato pancakes but differ from the compact patty of those just cited above including the latke.
For a recipe on how to make latkes, please see Sunset.com's "Perfect Latkes" at
Sufganiyah being injected with jelly
Another traditional food cooked with oil are special doughnuts called sufganiyah (plural: sufganiot).  Sufganiot are round doughnuts that are deep-fried in oil. While still hot, the sufganiyah is then injected full of jelly. The dough has a spongy texture which is where the doughnut gets its name (sfog in Hebrew means "sponge"). Although more spherical in shape, the sufaniot are very similar to the Polish pączki
For a recipe with photos on how to make sufganiyot, please see eGCI Forum: Sufganiyot at

The significance for both latkes and sufganiyot is that they are made in oil. In this way, they are both meant to recall the oil that burned in the lamps for eight days. 

The giving out of gelt (or chocolate candies made to look like coins) comes as a reminder that the Seleucids had confiscated all the possessions of the Jews.  It is from the giving of gelt that the tradition of gift-giving was developed in Christian countries as an assimiliative gesture to Christmas.


The song Ma'oz Tzur (often translated as "Rock of Ages") is a traditional song of the holiday. A common English translation is

Rock of Ages, let our song, Praise Thy saving power
Thou amidst the raging foes, Wast our sheltering tower
Furious they assailed us, But Thine arm availed us
And thy word broke their sword, When our own strength failed us.
And thy word broke their sword, When our own strength failed us.
Another popular song in both Hebrew and English is Mi Y'maleil? or Who Can Recall. A common English translation of this song begins:

Who can tell of the feats of Israel
Who can count them?
In every age a hero arose to save the people.
Who can tell of the feats of Israel
Who can count them?

In every age, a hero or sage came to our aid.

For the Jews of Yemen traditionally Chanukah was a sort of Jewish “trick-or-treat” time when children would go door to door collected wicks for the oil-burning menorahs used there. People would then give the children wicks along with candy and fruit. If the children received no wicks and treats, they chanted that these people were misers (the trick equivalent).

The Dreidel

Another tradition is to play with a four-sided top called a dreidel.  On the sides of the dreidel are the Hebrew letters of the first words of the four-word Hebrew phrase that translates: “A great miracle happened there.”  In Israel, the fourth letters on the dreidel are different than elsewhere as the phrase translates as “A great miracle happened here.”


I want to share briefly here that the main purpose of this blog post is to discuss the religious holiday of Chanukah. Thanksgiving is primarily a secular US holiday in this context.

Thanksgiving in the United States is usually celebrated with family gatherings and the eating of turkey and fall harvest specialties.It recognizes the first fall of the Pilgrims, the Puritan founders of Massachusetts.
It should be noted that other nations have their own Thanksgiving holidays but on different days than that of the United States. These include Canada (second Monday of October), Grenada (October 25) and Liberia (first Thursday of November). The Netherlands celebrates the same Thanksgiving as the United States (last Thursday of November) as a minor secular holiday in the city of Leiden (where the US Pilgrims lived before setting off for North America). 

It should also be noted that the US Thanksgiving has some controversy about it. Many Native Americans celebrate the holiday as an official day of mourning to commemorate how the initial hospitality the Pilgrims received in Plymouth was the beginning of the destruction of the way of life for North America's original inhabitants.Across the United States, many Native American groups hold public ceremonies of mourning on the day.  For more on this, please see Michelle Tirado's excellent article "The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story" at  

Please note that the Native American response to this is widely unknown among much of the rest of the US population and when it is known has become the subject of outrage and angry reactions, especially among European Americans and African Americans.

Another controversy is that the holiday specifically calls for giving thanks to God while the United States is at least superficially a secular society. This falls into the controversy of the so-called "culture wars" in the United States which pits those who believe the secularization of the the country is against the Puritan foundations of the nation and those who believe the insertion of religion is against the wishes of the nation's Founding Fathers.  It should be noted that the pro-secular movement continues to support Thanksgiving as a holiday, but only expresses concern about its religious orientation when such issues surface. For a clear summary of the anti-secularization view of this controversy, please see G. Jeffrey MacDonald's excellent article "The culture wars make a stop at Thanksgiving" at

For the pro-secularization of US Thanksgiving, please see Austin Cline's "Godless Thanksgiving: Do Atheists Have Anyone to Thank? Thanksgiving is Not a Christian or a Religious Holiday" at
Whatever else can be said, though, Thanksgiving is a widely celebrated holiday in the United States and, as mentioned already, not really the focus of this blog.


As always, I welcome your comments and input. 

Happy Chanukah! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgivukkah!

Want to read more?

You may wish to read more about the general background to the holiday at

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