When you think of all the different calendars that govern our lives, it is hard to reconcile them. We live by the Jewish holidays and the secular cycle of years, billing cycles and vacations from academics, team schedules and reminders to have our oil changed. But every now and then, a small miracle happens here.
The secular year 2006 will boast an occurrence that has not taken place in 19 years – two Chanukkahs. With the festival beginning on the night of December 25, 2005 (with the traditional Chinese food and movie) and concluding on January 2, 2006, we will have two opportunities to celebrate the Feast of Lights in a twelvemonth (secular) period.
This anomaly occurs because of the relatively arbitrary structure of the secular calendar and the fluid nature of the concurrent Jewish calendar. Mostly, a child will experience this two-fer only once in a childhood. It's every kid's dream. But what does it mean, beyond the answer to a trivia question?
For those of you looking to instill a little extra measure of pride, you will find a small fact to manipulate. For those of you looking to create parentheses around the secular year, you will find an excuse. For those of you looking to educate just a little more, you will find an opportunity.
But I will be happy for the extra gift. No, I don't mean sweaters and small electronics – I mean the gift of conversation that this phenomenon will provoke. It is a fact certainly not to be missed by the Episcopalian who attends the gas station I patronize (who is devoted to interfaith relations). It will generate any number of homiletic speculations on RAVNET (if RAVNET really does exist). And it will make us aware that the Jewish calendar, though a marvel of mathematics, is not perfect. Slowly but surely, the slight variations in the symmetrical rotations of moon and sun are causing "Chanukkah creep." Over the next hundred years, January endings for Chanukkah will become more frequent. By 5956 (2196, for those without a Jewish calendar), Chanukkah will end on January 4. Eventually, Chanukkah – and all the other festivals – will be out of season.
And why is that a gift? Because however long it takes, the Jewish world will have to agree on an adjustment. Whatever Judaism looks like when the realization dawns, the disparate branches, nationalities, movements and philosophies will have to unify to save Pesach from the fourth of July and Yom Kippur from pre-empting a Thanksgiving turkey. It will be a moment of rededication to the one-ness of our people and the one-ness of God.
And, after all, that's what Chanukkah is all about.