By Rabbi Dovid Heber
As many of us have already noticed, this year, Thanksgiving occurs on the first day of Chanukah. This rare event has caused much discussion and interest in the calendar. Although many of us remember Chanukah beginning during the weekend of Thanksgiving (e.g., in 1975 and 2002, Chanukah began on Friday night, the day after Thanksgiving), no one seems to remember a time when Chanukah and Thanksgiving actually coincided.
Why is this occurrence so infrequent? Chanukah usually falls in the civil calendar during the month of December. In “early years,” it begins in late November, and in “late years” it ends in early January. This year, the first day of Chanukah is on November 28th. This is an extremely early day in the solar calendar. In the 20th century, this only happened once, in 1994, when Chanukah began on Monday, November 28th. Thanksgiving that year was on the previous Thursday (see below what was special about that Chnaukah).
Thanksgiving occurs on the fourth Thursday in November. This year, it occurs on the latest day possible (under current federal law), November 28th. The combination of an early Chanukah and a late Thanksgiving means that the first day of Chanukah occurs this year on Thanksgiving.
Has a full day of Chanukah ever occurred on Thanksgiving in the past? The answer is yes. In 1861, when Thanksgiving was a holiday in many states (but not an official federal holiday), Chanukah began on Thursday, November 28th, exactly like this year.
Has Thanksgiving ever occurred on Chanukah since it became a federal holiday in 1863? The answer is yes. This is because Thanksgiving used to occur on the last Thursday in November. In the early 1940s, during World War II, the United States government changed Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday. Under the old rule, if November 29th or 30th was on Thursday, Thanksgiving occurred on that Thursday. Under current rules, in such a case, it is a week earlier, either on Thursday, November 22nd, or Thursday, 23rd.
So, in 1899 (still under the old rules), the fourth day of Chanukah was on Thursday, November 30th, which was Thanksgiving. The first day of Chanukah was on Monday, November 27th. 125 years ago, in 1888 (also, still under the old rules), the first day of Chanukah occurred on Thursday, November 29th, which was also Thanksgiving. This was the last time Thanksgiving occurred on the first day of Chanukah.
Furthermore, in 1918, the first night of Chanukah occurred on Thursday night, November 28th, which was Thanksgiving (it would have been Thanksgiving under the new rules as well).
Will it ever happen again? Under the current calendar rules, the first day of Chanukah will never again occur on Thanksgiving. However, the first night of Chanukah is scheduled to begin on Thanksgiving on Thursday night, November 27th, 2070, and Thursday night, November 28th, 2165.
It is interesting to note that in just three years, Chanukah will swing the other direction and occur on the Civil New Year. The last day of Chanukah 5777 (3rd of Teves) will occur on New Year’s Day, 2017. This is much more frequent with at least one of the later days of Chanukah also occurring on New Year’s, 2025, 2028, 2036, and 2044. The last time this happened was 2006 and the time before that was 1987.
On the topic of New Year’s occurring on special days in the Jewish calendar, next year, the fast of Asara B’Teves 5775 will occur on New Year’s Day, 2016. The last time this happened was in 1939. It should be noted when Asara B’teves occurs on New Year’s, usually the upcoming fast of the 17th of Tamuz occurs on Independence Day. This “double scenario” happened in 1901, 1920, and 1939 and is scheduled to next occur in 2034. However, it won’t happen in 2015 because the 17th of Tamuz, July 4th is on Shabbos, so the fast is postponed until Sunday, July 5th.
Finally, as indicated above the early Chanukah of 1994 caused a different special event, the most infrequent Shemonah Esrei. This occurs on Motzoei Shabbos Chanukah that is also Rosh Chodesh Teves while we still say Vesein Bracha. In this Shemonah Esrei, we say Atah Chonantanu, Vesein Bracha, Yaaleh Veyavo and Al Hanisim. The first time this Shemonah Esrei was ever recited was in 5413/1652. Currently, it is only recited once every 95 years. It was last recited in 5660/1899 and 5755/1994, and it is scheduled to be recited next in 5849/2089.
Why is it so infrequent? First, Chanukah must begin on a Monday so that Motzei Shabbos Chanukah is Rosh Chodesh. Furthermore, the “Motzoei Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Chanukah” must occur in a year when the seventh night of Chanukah occurs before December 4th (or 5th when the following February has 29 days), so that we still say Vesein Bracha. Chanukah is typically this “early” in the secular calendar only once every 19 years. This Shemonah Esrei is said when Rosh Chodesh Teves occurs on a Motzoei Shabbos in an extremely “early” year. Rosh Chodesh Teves on Motzoei Shabbos occurs in an extremely early year only once every 95 years.
The above is based on an article written by the author in his weekly Yated column, Calendar Calculations.