Thanksgiving and Hanukkah don’t always coincide, but this year’s juxtaposition provides an opportunity for reflection on common values that all Americans should take to heart.
The general story of Thanksgiving is well known in somewhat adulterated form. The usual version taught in our history-allergic schools is that the Pilgrims came to the New World and were in danger of starving, but their Indian neighbors taught them how to grow corn and gather food from the local wilderness, so in celebration everyone sat down and had a feast together.
The unabridged story is a lesson about freedom rather than farming and cooking tips.
When the Pilgrims came to what would eventually be America, they were laboring under a legal agreement that required all land, the resulting crops and manufactured goods to be held in common.
Every parcel of land was not owned by the people who worked it, and whatever the fruits of their labor was redistributed to the entire community. It was the foundational principle of socialism.
Under that system, it was impossible for a man to work hard and get ahead. His efforts would always be dragged down by those individuals who found no motivation for working, knowing that they would always be fed and provided for by the efforts of others.
It was a disaster. The community nearly starved to death and probably would have failed.
Fortunately, new leadership tore up the original agreement and gave the Pilgrims the right to private ownership of their land and their labor.
The results were astonishing. Now that each person was responsible for himself and free to market his labor, crops and goods to others any way he pleased, the entire community was suddenly motivated and productive, resulting in the bounty we celebrate at Thanksgiving.
Without the freedom from government interference and the freedom to achieve as much as the Pilgrims wanted, Thanksgiving never would have come about.
Hanukkah provides a different lesson, but one that is also about freedom.
When Israel found itself under the control of the Seleucids, a Hellenistic empire, the Jewish religion was outlawed by King Antiochus IV. Under pain of death, Jews were prohibited from teaching their beliefs, circumcising their children, making offerings to God or following the Law of Moses. Their temples were desecrated, their scriptures were destroyed, and the Jews were forced to worship Greek gods.
Judah Maccabee and his brothers raised an army to fight Antiochus, and after a three-year struggle, with the help of God, they were victorious. When they rededicated the temple, the meager supply of blessed oil miraculously lasted for days, which is the origin of the Hanukkah menorah.
But the story of the Maccabees points out the need for dedication and reliance on God, and the freedom that is the ultimate result. Through faith, the Jews regained their liberty.
Thanksgiving, too, is a time for expressing our faith in God and a reminder to put our trust in him. Especially in an era when so many people are willing to throw away their freedom for “goodies” like phones or birth control or any program promoted as being for the public’s “safety,” it’s important to remember the lessons from our ancestors, that it is faith, hard work and reliance on God and self that ensure freedom and lead to lives full of abundance and achievement.
Happy Thanksgiving and happy Hanukkah to all.