Thanksgivukkah will return sooner than you think

Thanksgivukkah cardToday, Americans can carve a turkey and light a Menorah at once.

That’s because Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah fall on the same day for the first time in anyone’s memory.

It might be the last time. According to calendar watchers who have crunched the numbers, the next Thanksgivukkah lies almost 80,000 years distant.

But resist chucking your Menurkey and shredding those sweet-potato latke recipes. My guess is that the yawning chasm of time will close up sooner than anyone thinks.

Why? Our calendars are imperfect. They are pegged to human events, not solar or lunar ones.

Hanukkah was inspired by the rededication of a holy site in Jerusalem that was damaged and defiled in a war about two centuries before Christ. (The word Hanukkah derives from a Hebrew translation of the verb “to dedicate.”) Hanukkah also stretches over eight days in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which has no direct relationship to any month in the Gregorian calendar most of us follow.

Thanksgiving started out in America as merely a remembrance of the pilgrims’ progress in the New World, with states and communities left to honor that effort when and how they wished. No official recognition came until 1789, and even that was a one-day-only proclamation emphasizing a citizen celebration of America’s 9-month-old Constitution.

No more proclamations came until President Lincoln issued one in 1863 as balm for a war-weary nation and set the Thanksgiving date as the last Thursday in November. Other presidents made the act of proclamation itself a tradition until 1939, when Thanksgiving was scheduled to land on Nov. 30. President Franklin Roosevelt was asked by retailers wanting an extra week of Christmas sales to move Thanksgiving. He did, to Nov. 23. He moved up Thanksgiving the following year, too.

Those changes wound up causing more consternation than contentment. Americans were divided between recognizing the traditional Thanksgiving and the new “Franksgiving” as it was derisively called until Congress passed a law 1941 that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday in November.

The calendars themselves keep changing, too. The Gregorian calendar requires periodic adjustment — a leap day added every four years — to correspond not only with the sun’s behavior in our sky, but also because Christian tradition insists that Easter remain close to the vernal equinox. The Gregorian calendar spawned from the Julian calendar, also containing leap days. The Julian one grew out of a Roman calendar that incorporated a whole leap month.

Likewise, the Hebrew calendar factors in some leap time to prevent holidays from drifting too far into one month from another.

So, the notion that either Hanukkah or Thanksgiving is locked down or immovable for another 79,811 years strikes me as 798 centuries premature. Time, politics and perception are certain to whittle at our attitudes toward both. Already, Thanksgiving is thought to be under assault by retailers trying to move the official start of Christmas shopping into the holiday itself. A day set aside for counting our blessings may devolve into a day for counting cash instead.

Especially if Menurkeys become popular.

Kennedy story belongs to me now

President John F. KennedyI was nowhere when President Kennedy was shot.

“Nowhere” being a relative term.

My mother was in bed and seven months’ pregnant with me when she first heard about the assassination. She was reading “Time” magazine — it came in the mail that morning — and was staying off her feet on doctor’s orders when her best friend called.

The day was crisp and pleasant beneath a cloudless sky. Sunlight streamed past the open curtains to warm the room.

“Are you all right?” the friend asked. No “hello” first.

“I’m fine,” my mother answered. “Why?”

“Turn on your TV, now. They’re reporting that President Kennedy was killed.”

At that, my mother hauled herself out of bed and waddled to the living room, turned on Walter Cronkite’s report and sat stunned for hours, like the rest of the nation, watching the tragedy unfold. Right then, as with many Americans, her day went dark despite the sun.

At some point, a nurse from her doctor’s office called to ask the same question her friend had. Half a century ago, medicine was about care, not insurance.

My mother replied she was fine, to which the nurse said she should plan on coming in for a check-up anyway “to be sure.”

“Well, the doctor will be in tomorrow, regardless,” the nurse said.

My father, meanwhile, was at work and having lunch when he heard. He was sitting on a bench outside; the weather was too nice to ignore. He had just opened his lunchbox and started removing the wax paper around his sandwich. He carried a little portable radio in the lunchbox, too; it always came out before the sandwich did.

He was about to take the first bite when the announcement was made. He sat and listened maybe five minutes, then re-wrapped the sandwich, closed the lunchbox and returned home. He did not stop inside to tell his boss. The radio remained on the whole time.

My mother repeated this story to me every Nov. 22, once I was old enough to understand it. She did that because she measured her life against world events — mention most any of them that transpired within the span of her life and she knew what she was doing at that moment.

This year is the first that I recall her story of Nov. 22 without prompting. She died in August.

My father, who has trouble with recollection due to failing health, does not remember that day. He sometimes does not even remember my name.

So, the story belongs to me now.