Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving: the American Sukkot?

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Did you know that Thanksgiving is really a Jewish holiday?

Although Thanksgiving is not on the Jewish calendar, historians believe Sukkot may have inspired America's favorite farewell to fall, often nicknamed "Turkey Day."

"The pilgrims based their customs on the Bible," says Gloria Kaufer Greene, author of the "New Jewish Holiday Cookbook" (Times Books, $29.95 hardcover). "They knew that Sukkot was an autumn harvest festival, and there is evidence that they fashioned the first Thanksgiving after the Jewish custom of celebrating the success of the year's crops."

Linda Burghardt, author of "Jewish Holiday Traditions" (Citadel Press, $24.95 hardcover), says, "Sukkot is considered a model for Thanksgiving. Both holidays revolve around showing gratitude for a bountiful harvest."

Today Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, but President Franklin Roosevelt didn't propose this timing until 1939.

It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Roosevelt actually changed Lincoln's decree that Thanksgiving be observed on the last Thursday in November, which sometimes fell on the fifth Thursday of the month.

The pilgrims invited local Indians to the first Thanksgiving during the fall of 1621. Historians speculate that this celebration occurred somewhere between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9, but most likely in early October, around the time of Sukkot.

"Originally, Sukkot entailed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem," says Greene, who believes the two holidays share much in common. [...more...]

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