Thanksgivukkah: How Did This Happen?!



By Kate Bigam

By now, we Jews think we’ve got the hang of when our holidays occur in relation to the Gregorian calendar: Passover often overlaps with Easter, the High Holidays inevitably collide with back-to-school season and, of course, Hanukkah frequently shares one of its eight days with Christmas. Still, these overlaps aren’t a given, and the timing of the Jewish holidays can be a bit difficult to keep track of, as evidenced by the unusual placement of Rosh Hashanah 5774, which fell in early September. Accustomed to associating High Holiday season with the time of year when we wear sweaters, drink pumpkin spice lattes and wax autumnal, many American Jews wondered, “Why are the holidays so early this year?!”

Still, when it comes to this seemingly strange timing, reminds us, “Jewish holidays actually occur on the same day every year: the same day on the Jewish calendar!” Because the Jewish calendar is tied to the moon’s cycles, rather than the sun’s (as the Gregorian calendar is), it “loses about 11 days relative to the solar calendar every year, but makes up for it by adding a month every two or three years.” The result is that, while the Jewish holidays don’t always fall on the same calendar day here in the U.S., they always fall within the same month or so.

This year, though, the Jewish calendar has thrown us all for a bigger-than-expected time loop. It’s not exactly a “December dilemma,” as the occasional Dec. 25 Hanukkah/Christmas hybrid is sometimes called. In fact, Hanukkah doesn’t begin in December at all! In 2013/5774, Hanukkah will overlap with a different holiday altogether: Thanksgiving.

That’s right. On Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, at the same time that Americans gorge themselves on turkey and weirdly textured cranberry desserts, expressing their gratitude and indulging in the joy of family (and, let’s be real, probably some of the annoyance too), American Jews will have another holiday to tend to also. So bust out the pumpkin pie and the latkes: This year, we’re celebrating Thanksgivukkah!

Because Hanukkah begins at sundown, the Jewish holiday will actually start on Wednesday, Nov. 27, but Thanksgiving Day will also be the first full day of Hanukkah. Just how rare is this? Well, the two holidays would’ve overlapped in 1861, but Thanksgiving wasn’t formally established until two years later, in 1863. That means Thanksgivukkah has never happened before—and it won’t happen again until 79811.

How did this calendrical anomaly come about? Jonathan Mizrahi, who holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland, provides a thorough explanation and a lot of complicated math:

[The] Jewish calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the solar calendar, at a rate of 4 days per 1,000 years (not bad for a many-centuries-old calendar!). This means that while presently Hanukkah can be as early as 11/28, over the years the calendar will drift forward, such that the earliest Hanukkah can be is 11/29. The last time Hanukkah falls on 11/28 is 2146 (which happens to be a Monday). Therefore, 2013 is the only time Hanukkah will ever overlap with Thanksgiving.

How will you celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime holiday? We’ve got plenty of ideas to get you started, from tasty recipes to a fun gift guide to suggestions for hosting your own Thanksgivukkah dinner party—and even a menorah in the shape of a turkey. Put your pilgrim hat atop your kippah, douse your latkes with gravy and stuff your cornucopia full of gelt, because we’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to celebrate!

Kate Bigam is a social media strategist and freelance writer living in New Jersey and pining for New England.