Judith And The Hanukkah Revolving Date Story
Do you remember the year of Thanksgivvikah?
Or 2017 when we had New Year’s Eve-ikkah?
Yes, but why?
Well, Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, and that means it is based on the Jewish calendar.
In a nutshell, the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar which means it is based on the moon’s rotation around the earth.
The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and is based on the earth’s rotation around the sun.
Since one calendar is based on the moon and the other is based on the sun, two different cycles are in use.
And two different set of dates.
But, to make things consistent, Hanukkah does begin every year of the Jewish calendar on the same day.
The 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.
The 25th of Kislev could fall anywhere from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar. For example, in 2010, Hanukkah began on December 2. In 2011, it began on December 21, and in 2012, it began on December 9. In 2020 it will begin on December 10. And we can celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah together in the year 2024.
So it really does fluctuate.
That doesn’t totally answer the question of why it changes from year to year. Here’s a bit more information (you know, in case you are playing Trivial Pursuit): since the Jewish calendar is lunar, certain adjustments must be made to the calendar to avoid having months occurring in different seasons.
There are basically twelve and a half lunar months in a solar calendar year, making a lunar calendar about eleven days too short (a thirteen-month calendar would be nineteen days too long). To compensate, the Jewish calendar uses a leap month.
Hence, the date changes.
And another piece of interesting trivia, again if you are playing Trivial Pursuit and need to really wow the other players, our first Jewish ancestors, unless they lived in Peru or thereabouts, did not eat potato pancakes.
Potatoes are indigenous to the Americas, and so Yehudis (aka Judith, circa 164 B.C.E.) never tasted one.
You are probably asking, “who is Judith?”
There is no found proof, so it is a Midrash (a story in a better sense of a word), about the heroine Judith that lived during the time of Hanukkah, the Second Temple period when the Greeks were trying to destroy all the Jewish people.
So, what did Judith do?
She tricked an invading military general by slipping into his tent at night. She was single, beautiful and was known to make incredible fried ricotta cheese pastries. So, she fed the feared leader Italian wine and her deep-fried ricotta pancakes until he fell into a wine/food coma.
And then beheaded him, and mounted his head on a wall in her village!
The Assyrians, having lost their leader, dispersed and Israel was saved!
The latke is now used to recognize Judith’s fierceness in an oh-so delicious way.
That midrash, telling of the Jewish heroine who saved the Jewish people with fried food and dairy products, is linked to the reason it is traditional to eat fried food and dairy during Hanukkah.
Fried cheese pancakes were enjoyed by Jews, and others, across the Old World until Europeans made contact with the Inca civilization, around 1553 C.E., and brought potatoes back across the Atlantic.
Now, sour cream is served on potato fried latkas,
And sufganiyot, Hebrew for donuts, are eaten as well -- fried food heaven!
So, this year, at your Hanukkah parties talk about the Hebrew calendar and changing of dates for the upcoming celebrations
And don’t forget to mention Judith as you bite into your crispy-fried latka.