In a rare confluence, this year the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah will fall on Thanksgiving. How can that possibly be? Isn't Hanukkah usually at the same time as Christmas and Kwanzaa, near the end of December? Yes, usually. But the Jewish calendar is lunar-based; unlike Christmas and Kwanzaa, which have fixed dates on the Gregorian calendar we are all most familiar with, Hanukkah (and other Jewish festivals) can vary quite a bit from year to year. This year, the lunar-Gregorian calendar variation is greater than any time since the late 19th century. And the next time Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlap, it will be 79,000 years from now! It seems a shame not to find a way to take advantage of this unique alignment of holidays, whether or not you're Jewish.
Over the years, perhaps to keep pace with families who give presents to their kids for Christmas, parents have turned Hanukkah into a gift-getting holiday. This is not a "bah humbug" rant on my part—gifts certainly help make holidays special for kids (and for their parents!). But, as with presents on other holidays, Hanukkah gifts can distract kids from the true meaning of the holiday. Hanukkah has historical and religious significance, commemorating a military victory of a small band of Jews, the Maccabees, over a large Hellenistic army, allowing the Jewish people to reclaim and rededicate their Temple. When the Maccabees tried to light the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, they found only enough uncontaminated oil to burn for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days; hence, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and a menorah is lit with a new candle added each night.
This year, the combination of receiving gifts on Hanukkah and feeling and expressing gratitude on Thanksgiving makes for the perfect juxtaposition of getting and giving. Jewish families can combine what has become the "getting spirit" of Hanukkah with the beautiful "giving spirit" of Thanksgiving, taking the opportunity to remind kids of the importance of giving thanks, giving to charity, and helping those who are less fortunate.
After this year's odd coincidence of getting and giving passes, should we wait another 79,000 years to remind our kids to be thankful and generous on Hanukkah? That's a long time for an important lesson! Instead, why not incorporate the Thanksgiving message into every "getting" holiday every year—like Hanukkah, Christmas, and even birthday celebrations? Let's all agree to spend a part of every "getting" holiday in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Teach kids to give thanks for the many blessings they have, and to give generously to others who aren't as blessed. In that way, our kids will be giving while they're getting, and be thankful for the opportunity to do both.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
Image: Colorful gift packages and ribbons via Shutterstock.