It’s not like us at They Knew They Were Pilgrims to miss out on an opportunity to write about something really unusual, so when our fellow Interpreter, Malka Benjamin, said that she’d like to write about the REALLY unusual, calendar-clashing, double-booking of the next thousand centuries, we said “Yes please!”. Here’s a little bit about what this year’s Thanksgiving-Chanukah special means to our good friend, co-worker and blog supporter. Thank you, Malka, for sharing this with us!
Thanksgiving is special every year, and all the more so when you have the privilege of working at Plimoth Plantation, mecca of all things Thanksgiving-related. But this year, for me, Thanksgiving is extra special because it overlaps with the first day of Chanukah – thus creating the holiday of “Thanksgivukkah!”
Chanukah, also known as the “Festival of Lights” is a post-biblical holiday that commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Greek Hasmoneans. (Later Rabbinic tradition ascribes the length of the holiday, eight days, to the miracle of the oil – when the Maccabees re-entered the desecrated temple and wanted to relight the sacred menorah, they could only find enough pure oil for one day. However, the oil burned for eight days, enough time to produce more sacred oil!)
In case you are wondering why everyone is making such a big deal out of “Thanksgivukkah,” it’s because this special confluence last happened in 1888, and won’t happen again for another 79,043 years! This is because the dates of Thanksgiving and Chanukah are determined by two different calendars. Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday of November. America follows the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar. Chanukah always starts on the same date in the Hebrew calendar, the 25th of Kislev, but the Hebrew calendar is lunar – it’s based on the cycles of the moon. Which is why Jewish holidays, while they always fall during the same time of year, seem to move around a little. Due to the various exigencies of these two calendars, this year the first day of Chanukah is also the same day as Thanksgiving – it won’t happen again in any of our lifetimes!
As the resident “Kosher Pilgrim” in the 17th Century English Village this confluence is pretty exciting! In my non-pilgrim life, when I’m not attempting to come off as a devout Protestant 8 hours a day, I am an active, practicing Jew. My faith has led to some interesting obstacles, and some interesting opportunities while working at Plimoth Plantation.
I have to admit, before starting to work at the Plantation, I didn’t know all that much about Christianity beyond the basics, so trying to figure out where and how the Separatists, and the Church of England, fit into everything was a bit of a challenge. I had no framework. However, since the Separatists are basically Old Testament Christians, I found my Jewish day school education, with its focus on the Torah (what Christians call the Old Testament) and the book of Judges, to come in quite handy!
As a practicing Jew, I observe the laws of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), which means I only eat certain types of meat that has been raised and slaughtered in a specific way – and none of the meat we cook onsite fits that criteria. So, this presents the mundane, day-to-day challenges like attempting to cook a tasty turkey pottage in character without ever actually taste-testing it myself, or laying the board (eating a meal) in front of visitors, without every actually eating any of the meat or shellfish dishes. (Next time you visit, watch carefully!) Then, last year, when I was selected to play the bride in our yearly 17th-century nuptials, Kathleen Wall, our intrepid Foodways Culinarian, was faced with the challenge of creating an entire 17th-century wedding feast that I could actually eat, since all Pilgrim brides do is pose for pictures and eat on their “wedding” day.
So of course, last week when my father and I decided we needed to write a Thanksgivukkah song, we chose to parody “We Be Soldiers Three,” a popular early 17th-century English song about soldiers returning from fighting in the Low Countries!