Most of you have played “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” when you try to connect any actor in Hollywood to Kevin Bacon in six steps or less. Let’s play “Six Degrees of Thanksgiving” and try to connect another holiday – say, Chanukkah – to this quintessential American observance.
You know that the origins of the holiday are attributed to the pious Puritans, staunchly literal Christians who came to the “new world” seeking religious freedom. According to legend, the Puritans and the Native Americans gathered at harvest time to give thanks for the bounty that would see them through the winter ahead. They modeled this harvest gathering after the Biblical festival of Sukkot, which also celebrates the harvest.
Sukkot was the festival on which the Temple in Jerusalem was dedicated by King Solomon. He gathered the Israelites and others together for worship, offerings and a lot of eating. On the next-to-last day, the non-Israelites went on their way and then Solomon held one more feast for the Israelites themselves, on the holiday of Shimini Atzeret. All together, the festival of Sukkot is eight days long.
The other eight-day holiday in our tradition is Chanukkah. When the Hasmonean warriors recaptured the Temple from the Greco-Assyrians, they sought to rededicate it in the mode of Solomon. Especially since the observance of Sukkot, with its offerings and rituals, had been impossible during the war, they decided to celebrate Sukkot in Kislev, and lived in temporary shelters as the Temple service was renewed.
And about once every nineteen years (and this is that year), Chanukkah lands dangerously close to Thanksgiving. Many the family will be having turkey salad and latkes on the Sunday following Thanksgiving.
So we made it from Thanksgiving to Chanukkah in only three steps, quicker than the movie-star game. And, like the good Jews we are, we managed to hold the Bacon.