They Knew They Were Pilgrims

The 17th Century Adventures of Plimoth Plantation's Colonial Interpreters

Thanksgivukkah 2013!

November 29th, 2013 by Sally

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!

secret menorahs in 1627? whatever next...

The Warren household kept Chanukah this year. This is Malka’s Pilgrim version of a Menorah.

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!


Happy Thanksgivukkah!

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8 Responses to “Thanksgivukkah 2013!”

  1. Wm Brewster aka Ray Byrne says:

    Maika…Thanks so very much for sharing this with all of us. I truly appreciate your dilemma portraying a 17th century protestant while in truth in the 21st century being a ” practicing Jew.” I, too, while interpreting William Brewster for the past six seasons, constantly deal (no longer “struggle”) with the daily necessity to espouse the teachings of the Separatist church, the Geneva Bible and John Calvin, while being a practicing Catholic in the 21st century. I have confided to my “Papist” friends that I fully expect a bolt of lightening to come crashing through the roof of the Meeting House and strike me down as I frequently stand firm on the doctrine of predestination, decry the use of the sign of the cross, rail against the multiple sacraments of the Church of Rome and discredit the celebration of Christ-Mass. Being a “Pilgrim” poses so many more challenges than meet the eyes of our visitors. But then, that’s why we LOVE OUR JOBS, and soldier on amidst many daunting obstacles. Again, my personal thanks from one member of a forbidden religion in 17th century Plimoth to another, and extend my great appreciation for your sharing, caring and being our colleague.

    • Atlas Laster says:

      Your candid self-disclosure is very much appreciated, Ray, and likely expresses similar sentiments of the Separatists when they began a theological/religious journey out of the Church of England, which had already separated from the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, given the guidance of Henry Ainsworth when assembling in Holland, the Separatists began to see, as did many Reformation and post-Reformation Christians, the crucial and critical importance of studying their beloved Scriptures in the Hebrew language in which the texts were written originally, and not relying solely on the Greek and Latin interpretations. It is well documented that valuable resources for learning intricacies of Scripture were found in studying with Rabbis, for which Ainsworth was criticized ignorantly and ridiculously as relying too much on Judaism.

      Over four centuries ago, the Separatists/Pilgrims learned from Ainsworth that the Christian Old Testament canon was based on the Hebrew Tanak or Tanach (TaNaK): “T” for Torah (Pentateuch or five books of Moses); “N” for Neviim or Prophets; “K” for Ketuvim or Writings; only consonants and no vowels were used in the Hebrew language. The Puritans evidently did not have the luxury of being taught Hebrew by Ainsworth, thus, their knowledge of Hebrew was lacking, as shown by Dr. John Henry Dorenkamp’s paper, “The New England Puritans and the Name of God,” reprinted/published from the April 1970 proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.

      Finally, since having found Sally’s blog a year ago, I appreciate more and more the restoring of the Pilgrims’ journey and work in the New England being done there at the Plantation, and the forum provided. Further let us not forget the infamous 1676 Seaflower ship’s journey with a cargo of Native American slaves.

      • Sally says:

        Thanks for your thoughts, Dr Laster. I think I’ll have to write another Ainsworth post at some point…I’d like to tackle at least one post about John Robinson before then though!

        • Atlas Laster says:

          How fascinating, Sally, is Nick Bunker’s 2010 book, “Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World, A New History.” So many wide gaps in my knowledge have been filled by Bunker’s research, including information about John Robinson and his progenitors. Bunker’s description of Leiden during the time of the Separatists’ stay there was so very interesting.

          Again, with each new bit of information learned about the Pilgrims and Puritans, I honor even more the work you all have undertaken successfully in the ongoing restoration of an important part of America’s history.

        • Atlas Laster says:

          This morning I completed reading the first chapter of Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and
          War.” More gaps in my knowledge of the Pilgrims and Puritans are being filled, which, to a degree, complement the spirituality of Henry Ainsworth that I have continued to internalize during the past several years – epitomized in John Robinson, for one, as shown by Philbrick’s understanding of Robinson.

          In my professional, spiritual, and personal opinions, we as a people continue to be handicapped, as it were, due to our lack of knowledge of the spiritual forces that animated, so to say, and were driving forces of people like Ainsworth, Robinson, Brewster, and others of that time and place. Those of us that have been directed to become educated in matters related to the Separatists perforce are affected, and cannot help but “prophesy” in our own spheres of influence.

        • Atlas Laster says:

          Sally, I just completed reading the Philbrick book, and was so very encouraged to have read about the Plimoth Plantation’s efforts on page 356. As stated previously, it was indeed a blessing to have found your blog.

          Many thanks for being open to my few comments, and all the best to your work. May Yah Yahweh bless you all at the Plantation, and meet your every need.


          • Sally says:

            Thank you so much for your involvement in our discussions here, I greatly appreciate your encouragement! The way that Philbrick tells the story of the Mayflower journey has made the primary sources of the colonists accessible to so many people in a wonderful way, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading it!

  2. Atlas Laster says:

    A point of clarification for Malka Benjamin’s typo: the Hasmoneans were Jews and not Greek.

    Shabbat shalom.

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