Admittedly, it is the lesser told story. But the story of Thanksgivukkah packs as much of a punch as the traditional Hanukkah saga, and leaves you feeling as warm and fuzzy as the Thanksgiving tale. Believe you me.
It is like the latke that you put sour cream on without noticing that the edge already had some apple sauce on it — a slightly confusing mouthful, but not one you can say you regret. Thanksgivukkah. It really is the best of both worlds.
I should know, you see, because I, Moses Fletcher, the lone Jew aboard the Mayflower, was there when it all began. And tonight, a night unlike all other nights for the last 125 years and unlike any to come for the next 77,798, a night when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah once again coincide, I will finally tell my story.
I guess it really all started when the Mayflower finally made landfall in Plymouth. Why Plymouth? Beats the crap outta me, but that’s where Capt. Christopher Jones said he was going to land and I’ll be darned if Christopher Jones didn’t get every last thing he wanted save the late Humility Cooper’s hand in marriage.
Plymouth was the destination, something about the land already being cleared or somesuch. If you ask me, the land was clear because every living thing in a 70-rod-and-chain radius turned tail and got the hell out of there before winter.
To say that winter was harsh in Plymouth is an understatement. December 1621 felt longer than the Curse of the Bambino. That winter sucked. We lost more than half our original 102. We were tired. We were cold. We were at each other’s throats. Well, truthfully, a few pilgrims were taking the brunt of it, mainly Bartholomew’s crew, but that goes back to what happened between William Bradford and John Carver back in Yorkshire before we even set sail, so.
Anyway. There are a couple miracles at the heart of the Hanukkah story, as you probably know. There’s the miracle of how the measly Maccabee army succeeded in liberating Israel from Hellenic dominance. And there’s the miracle of how seriously just a tiny thimbleful of oil lasted for a whole eight long days.
So, I guess you could say what Hannukah is really about is a how a little can really be a lot, or how a small bit of the right effort can get the job done swimmingly or something along those lines. Which is all really great and good, but I’ll tell you what the real miracle was.
The real miracle was that we pilgrims hadn’t torn each other limb from limb by the time Hanukkah rolled around. I mean, it was a small group and getting smaller with every cough and wheeze. We had already journeyed together across the Atlantic for four hellish months, cramped most of the time down below, coming up for air really only to empty a chamber pot, if that.
But what they don’t tell you in the history books is that we were still living on that frigging ship by the time it was Hannukah! Can you believe that? I mean we were in Plymouth and everything, we had been there for a few weeks, but we just for the life of us couldn’t figure out how to make a house with a roof that didn’t ignite at the first spark of Gilbert Winslow’s pipe.
“Look,” I said to William and John and Francis, “my people have been through harder times than this and —“
“We know, we know,” Francis croaked. “You got through it and not only that but it made you stronger. We know, Moses. We’re happy for you. Now fer chrissake give it a rest.”
“My brothers,” I said, “I vow this time will be no different. If there is one thing our trans-Atlantic trip reinforced for me, it is that G-d gives us intestinal fortitude to stomach even the thinnest of porridge. Stay with me on this. I know a way.”
In truth, I did not know a way, but I knew that Hanukkah was nigh and I knew that a little really can be a lot when it’s the right bit, and, well, I had a little faith.
On the eve of Dec. 12, 1621, the first night of Hanukkah for the lunar year 5381, what transpired can only be called a divine act.
Our barrels of rice, peas and biscuits were nearly empty. The men had not been lucky in the hunt. What kind of Hanukkah would it be without even a morsel to eat, I thought to myself. No kind of Hanukkah, that’s what.
A very curious looking man showed up at the edge of the shore where the Mayflower sat. Soft deerskin draped over his loins. I remember thinking his deerskin looked very soft. Much more so than our breeches. This was my first clue.
Capt. Jones said we weren't to go meet him, but cowering in fear is no way to greet Hanukkah, I thought to myself. I resolved to go and meet the man.
As I lowered myself to shore, the wind howled mightily. Whole drifts of snow obscured my vision. I could barely make out the cries of my fellow pilgrims still aboard the Mayflower, begging for my return. I could barely make out the man in the deerskin before me.
The storm grew in intensity. I had to cover my eyes with my arm to withstand the chill. The blistery chaos of the weather was matched in that moment only by the emotional turmoil beneath my short coat and doublet.
I stood still for what felt like an eternity, growing colder and more afraid. When the wind finally quieted and I was able to lower my arm and raise my gaze, the man was nowhere to be seen. But before me on the ground, glowing and afire, was the most peculiar kind of waterfowl.
In truth, I may not have gone near the bird had we all not been so desperate and had it not been Hanukkah and had I not promised William and John and Francis that something miraculous was going to happen. But go toward it I did and thank goodness.
In no time at all, the lot of us had each tasted, nay feasted, upon the sweetest, most succulent meat our weary bodies had known in months. Hanukkah was upon us and our bellies they were full, and I'll be darned if they didn't stay that way for eight whole days.
Oh, it’s true the natives showed us how to plant corn and all the good places to hunt and all that, but that wasn’t until spring. The real Thanksgiving was Thanksgivukkah, in the middle of December.
In the dead of winter, when a man leaves you a turkey, you thank the good Lord and you eat it.