The first day of Hanukkah this year coincides with Thanksgiving — an event that will not happen again for another 70,000 years.
University of Alabama at Birmingham Chaplain Michael Horwitz scheduled a Hanukkah celebration at UAB Hospital for Monday, Dec. 2, the fifth day of Hanukkah, to take the opportunity to celebrate. The event will take place from noon to 12:30 p.m. on the second floor of the North Pavilion Atrium.
The eight-day Hanukkah celebration begins the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 27, which means that the first full day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving Day. The first menorah lightings will take place Thanksgiving eve.
“It’s an extremely rare occurrence and indeed won’t happen again for another 70,000 years,” Horwitz said. “Some are even referring to the holidays this year as Thanksgivukkah. The Department of Pastoral Care thought this would be a great opportunity to teach a little bit about the Jewish traditions of Hanukkah in a fun way, so we’re really looking forward to the celebration.”
The event, which will feature singing and the lighting of the menorah, is free and open to all faculty, staff, students and the general public.
The reason for this year’s rare alignment has to do with the quirks of the Gregorian and Jewish calendars. Much of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, which has a 365-day year based on the Earth’s orbit around the sun, with leap years every four years. The Gregorian calendar was implemented by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 to keep Easter in line with the season in which it was originally celebrated.
But the Jewish calendar, which was created more than 2,000 years ago, follows the waxing and waning of the moon. That calendar has 12 months of roughly 30 days each, which works out to a bit more than 354 days in a year. As a result, the Jewish year creeps earlier and earlier relative to the Gregorian calendar.
To keep holidays in line with their seasons, the Jewish calendar includes an extra month in seven out of every 19 years. This year is a leap year, so Hanukkah and all of the other Jewish holidays came especially early in 2013. Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November, happened to come extra-late this year, allowing for the convergence.
Because the extra month on the Jewish calendar will occur in 2014, Hanukkah will once again happen in December next year.
Horwitz says Hanukkah is one of the only Jewish holidays that does not require being in a synagogue together as a community, but instead is meant to be observed as a family at home. Families typically gather around dinner tables and light candles in succession each night for eight nights.
“Lighting the candles on the menorah every night is something Jewish families and individuals are taught to do in the evening based on the traditions and customs of the holiday,” Horwitz said. “After dark each night, the candles are to be lit near a window and not blown out, and special blessings and songs are sung.”
Hanukkah, known as the Jewish mid-winter Festival of Lights, commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the armies of King Antiochus Epiphanes IV of Syria in 165 B.C. Legend has it that a small cruse of oil, when used to relight the menorah in the Temple, miraculously lasted for eight days. In fact, Hanukkah means dedication and marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration by the Syrians.
The Dec. 2 event promises to be fun and enlightening, Horwitz says.
“It’s going to be a great time,” he said. “I hope everyone will come and join us.”