On their surfaces, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are simple holidays. We see the themes of light breaking through the darkness, a few banding together to beat the elements, and the power of having faith in community. We camp folk know that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. So let’s look deeper into the three miracles of Hanukkah. One miracle is that small group of zealots were able to beat the stronger forces and regain control of the Temple. When they recaptured the Temple they found one small jar of oil for the menorah in the Temple. The second miracle was that despite the fact that this small jar only had enough oil for one day it lasted for eight days. This story about the miraculous Hanukkah oil has allowed us to look past focusing solely on the military victory. This is important in that the war was not a black and white fight between the Jews and the Greeks. Rather, it was a civil war between a small group of religious zealots and a larger group of their Hellenized Jewish brethren. The third miracle of Hanukkah is that the story of the second miracle of the oil overshadows the first miracle of a civil war.
Now we turn our attention to Thanksgiving. It is a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and the preceding year. This is traced to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. We retell the story of the first settlers to America who found salvation when they reached Plymouth Rock.
But is that the real story of Thanksgiving? On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the national holiday of Thanksgiving. There we read:
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.
Like the third miracle of Hanukkah, Thanksgiving is not really a story about the Pilgrims, but rather the constitution of a ritual of reconciliation post-civil war. Both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving represent the recreation of national mythologies for the sake of mending the wounds of fighting between brothers.
We in camping appreciate the impact of a good story regardless of its true origins. Camp in its essence is a self-made community built on rituals, traditions, and history that is created by its members and need not be based solely on fact. It is here in this miraculous fabricated narrative that we create enduring memories of brotherhood. So while the story might not be true, the community could not be any more real. I hope you have a very meaningful Thanksgivukkah. Happy holidays.