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Hanukkah and Thanksgiving coincide this year for the first time since 1888, and will not do so again for thousands of years. Whatever you call this coincidence, and whether you are Jewish or not, in addition to giving rise to waves of recipes for everything from latke-stuffed birds, to pumpkin-stuffed doughnuts, the Hanukkah-Thanksgiving mash up reminds us how to live happier, bolder and more successful lives.
But first, we must do a few things that both the Pilgrims and the Maccabees, the original heroes of Hanukkah, knew how to do.
From recalling a group of brave, hopeful, religious outsiders, the Pilgrims, who boarded leaky ships bound for a place they did not know, to a group of equally brave and hopeful religious outsiders, the ancient Israelite clan known as the Maccabees, who took on a fight they had little chance of winning, these are stories of recognizing possibility and celebrating abundance.
In each case, as in all of our lives, the story could have gone in a different direction. The pilgrims could have stayed home, or could have resisted celebrating when so much around them was still so rough and so terribly uncertain.
The Maccabees could have also stayed home, or could have decided that there wasn’t enough oil to keep the Jerusalem Temple’s Menorah (candelabrum) burning, so why bother lighting it at all, thus robbing us all of the inspiring story of the little jar of oil which lasted longer than it “should” have. But they didn’t.
The Pilgrims did make the journey, and the Maccabees did fight and light. In both cases, they trusted in the possibility of the moment, and in the abundance they possessed. That’s what allowed both the Pilgrims and the Maccabees to undertake their respective challenges, and to celebrate the successes they had already achieved, even though they knew that a long road still lay ahead of them.
Neither the Pilgrims nor the Maccabees were naive; they were simply heroic in ways that we all can be as well. They simply followed a path marked by the following common steps:
First, we don’t need to pretend that all is well in our lives in order to experience thankfulness. Try to find at least one thing for which you can be grateful despite the tough times in which you may find yourself this year. It’s amazing how much happiness this practice can generate, on Thanksgiving, on Hanukkah and throughout the year.
Second, sharing with at least one other person, and hopefully many more, the things for which we can be grateful. Whether at a table bursting with food, or by lighting menorahs for all too see, public celebration lies at the heart of both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah for a good reason. Things feel so much more real when we share them with others.
Third, celebrate even though we may still find ourselves in the midst of all kinds of challenges. It may be that things in your personal life are not ideal, that things at work are not as you hoped they would be, but that doesn’t mean there are not always things for which to be grateful.
If the Pilgrims could declare a day of thanksgiving, despite all the death and deprivation which they were experiencing and the Maccabees could light the lamps and celebrate even as the war they were fighting continued to rage – if they could find some good despite how short they had fallen of their ideals – so can we.
Whether at the table around a turkey, around a menorah set with candles, or wherever else you find yourself this Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, trust and celebrate that there is more in your life than you may know, and more possibility for you in the future than you may imagine. Trust in that, share your stories with others and listen to theirs, and two things will happen: you join the ranks of some of the greatest heroes of both American and biblical history, and you really will have happier holidays.