Yesterday we celebrated “Thanksgivukkah” the collision of Thanksgiving with Hanukkah. This festive overlap is rarer than a planetary alignment, having occured just a couple times in history. And because of the differences in the Gregorian and the Hebrew calendar this is basically the last Thanksgivukkah that will happen for more than 75,000 years! Thanksgiving is one of the biggest holidays in the United States, and quite frankly, one of the tastiest! Since the first Thanksgiving in 1621, Americans have been giving thanks and chowing down on the fourth Thursday of every November. I still remember my first Thanksgiving during my exchange year in the United States, when all the family came together to enjoy the cozy warmth of our living room and my host mom and me pretty much spent all day in the kitchen, preparing sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie and of course the plumpest and juiciest turkey we could find. I also remember everyone smiling when we announced that this year the turkey was not stuffed as usual, but the Turkish way!
My first Thanksgiving in Hong Kong was very different, but just as cozy and wonderful: Miranda’s mom had prepared a delicious pie for us and so we all cuddled together in the dayroom and enjoyed our piece of pie while thinking about preparing a thanksgiving dinner. The day went by with sending out Thanksgiving and Hanukkah messages to my American and Jewish friends and ended with a wonderful and cozy celebration in Block 3 dayroom after check-in. Hayley, my tutor and our head of house brought menorahs, nine branched candle holders, and candles for all of us to celebrate Hanukkah and light a candle for those people who do not have much light in their life.
The history of Hanukkah is very interesting. More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who forcefully wanted to hellenize the people of Israel. But against all odds, a small group of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God. When they sought to light the Temple's menorah (a nine branched candleholder), they found only a single cruse of oil that was not contamined by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity. To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Hanukkah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting, that is why Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights : a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Hanukkah, when all eight lights are kindled. We lit three candles yesterday and then turned off the lights.
And while all of us cuddled up on the couches and admired the beauty of the candle lights, Hayley read a story for us, ending with a personal note about the importance of helping other people and making their life a little bit brighter by showing action and reminding us of the International Day of Violence Against Women. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to realize that we can make a difference. Our dayroom celebration ended with delicious donuts, because traditional Hanukkah food is fried in oil, such as potato pancakes, called latkes. Another custom is playing with the dreidel, a spinning top with Hebrew letters. Before turning the lights back on, we took a moment of silence to think about the people in need and to enjoy the cozy atmosphere in the dayroom. Hayley gave us a lot to think about... and we realized that Hanukkah is much deeper than just the gift giving and lighting the Menorah or playing dreidel. It’s about banishing the darkness in our lives. It’s about being a source of light not just for yourself but also for those around you. It’s about seeing hope where there was only despair.
“When life seems to put out every light you have, It is better to light a candle than to complain about the darkness.” -Unknown