Something that rarely occurs is to have Thanksgiving and Hanukkah occur at the same time. Hanukkah begins this evening, goes through Thanksgiving, and ends about the same time the turkey sandwiches and leftovers are finished off a week later.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, it is a time of celebration. It goes to the re-dedication of the Second Temple in the times of the Maccabees. Israel had been sacked by Antiochus Epiphanes, who set up an altar to Zeus in the Jerusalem temple and sacrificed pigs on the altar. According to the Books of Maccabeus in the Apocrypha, several people were tortured to death for refusing to eat pork and deny God. After a long and difficult war, the Jews regained much of their independence and ability to worship Jehovah in His temple again.
The temple needed purifying and a re-dedication – an 8 day event. However, there was not consecrated/sacred oil enough to keep the sacred menorah in the Temple lit for 8 days. The miracle occurred when one day’s worth of oil lasted through the entire re-dedication of the temple, until another batch of oil could be procured for the regular service.
Hanukkah means to “dedicate” and is a time for Jews to rededicate themselves to their religion, so hardly fought for over the millennia.
I am a descendant of the Mayflower. On board were 102 people, despite the belief, almost none were Puritans. Most were Separatists, with a good number being sailors and others seeking a new start. The Separatists had been persecuted in England for their religious views. Moving to the Netherlands for religious freedom, they found they were now victims of economic persecution. They chose to start anew in the Americas.
John Howland was an indentured servant to John Carver, one of the leaders of the expedition. In the crossing, they hit a major storm. While attempting to tie things down on deck, John was washed off the ship and into the roiling sea. As Fortune and God would have it, John was able to grab hold of a rope as he went overboard. Holding his breath under 20 feet of water for what must have seemed an eternity, he was finally hauled back up by others. He would go on to earn his independence and become a major leader of the early Pilgrims.
Arriving in November 1620, off course from their planned destination in Virginia, they chose to establish a new colony. This new colony would require a government, and so the Mayflower Compact was composed and signed prior to anyone leaving the ship. A test of self-government was to begin. However, It was a very harsh winter for the colony. Of the 102 Mayflower passengers and sailors, exactly half would not live to see the Spring of 1621.
John would marry a young woman that came aboard the ship, Elizabeth Tilley. Her parents would be among those who died that first winter. These are my ancestors.
That Spring, the Pilgrims would receive a God-send, as Native Americans, led by Squanto, would teach them how to survive in this New World. Squanto had been kidnapped by early voyagers and taken back to Europe, where he learned to speak English and know of their customs. The harvest would be plentiful, an amazing contrast to the suffering earlier that same year.
William Bradford described the first harvest like this:
They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.
Of the first Thanksgiving feast, Edward Winslow wrote:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
In 1623, after a short drought, there would be another good harvest and Thanksgiving feast. William Bradford wrote of that period:
And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving…
By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine now God gave them plenty … for which they blessed God. And the effect of their particular planting was well seen, for all had … pretty well … so as any general want or famine had not been amongst them since to this day.
For us today to be thankful for the miracles of Thanksgiving and of Hanukkah, where God helped two small groups of people seeking religious freedom – either from British theocrats or Hellenist tyrants, to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences. This freedom opened the door for the mortal Christ to walk among the Jews, and for the Lord to appear to the 14 year old Joseph Smith, leaving much of the world a better place for the religious benefits we now have.