Wednesday, November 29, 2017

So when is Hanukkah, er, Chanukah, anyway?

November is almost over. December hasn't yet begun. Thanksgiving is history and Christmas hasn't yet arrived. But not to worry. There are other days to observe or ignore, as the case may be. For example, yesterday (November 28th) was Albanian Flag Day, commemorating the Albanian Declaration of Independence on 28 November 1912 and the rise of the Albanian flag in Vlora, coinciding with the day in which Scanderbeg raised the same flag in Kruje, on 28 November 1443.

It was also the 91st anniversary of the wedding of my wife's parents, Ksanthipi Rista and Dhimitri Kuçi, may they rest in peace, who were married on November 28, 1926, in Fier, Albania.

Moving right along, in December there is St. Nicholas Day. St. Lucia's Day. Kwanzaa. Ōmisoka. Eid in some years but not others.

And don't forget Hanukkah, or Chanukah, if you prefer. The trick with this one is not saying "Happy Hanukkah" or "Chappy Chanukah" too early or too late. A moveable feast, Hanukkah/Chanukah begins every year at sundown on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev and lasts for eight days. Since the Hebrew calendar sometimes has 12 months and sometimes has 13 months, it is also a moveable feast all by itself.

According to our old friend Wikipedia, the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning that months are based on lunar months, but years are based on solar years. ... In leap years (such as 5774) an additional month, Adar I (30 days) is added after Shevat, and the regular Adar is referred to as "Adar II."

Okay. A word of explanation. We all know that the earth's yearly trip around the sun takes approximately 365.25 days and every fourth year (.25 times 4) we add in one extra day and call it a leap year. Fewer of us know that the moon's monthly trip around the earth takes approximately 29.5 days, so to use whole numbers it takes 59 days for the moon to make two trips around the earth. Accordingly, to use whole numbers, the Hebrews decided to alternate the number of days in a month, 29 one month and 30 the next, making -- voila! -- 59 days every two months. If you multiply 59 days every two months by six to get a 12-month total, you come up with 354 days. The mathematically astute among you will grasp immediately that the Hebrew calendar, being lunar, is about 11 days shorter than 365 days. Confused? Here are the names of the Hebrew months with the number of days shown in parentheses: Nisan (30), Iyar (29), Sivan (30), Tammuz (29), Av (30), Elul (29), Tishrei (30), Marchesvan or Cheshvan (sometimes 29, sometimes 30), Kislev (sometimes 30, sometimes 29), Tevet (29), Shevat (30), and Adar (29).

As we said, a year in the Hebrew calendar is around 354 days (it can be 353 or 355, but let's keep it simple). As we learned several paragraphs ago, in leap years (such as 5774), an additional month, Adar I (30 days) is added after Shevat, and the regular Adar is referred to as "Adar II." So some years have 12 months in the Hebrew calendar and some years have 13 months in the Hebrew calendar, and to make things even more confusing the year starts in the spring instead of on January 1st. It is as though the western calendar and the Hebrew calendar never, well hardly ever, coincide. Never the twain shall meet, almost.

This explains why Hanukkah/Chanukah varies from year to year. It always begins on the 25th of Kislev, but Kislev keeps jumping around for those of us who do not follow the Hebrew calendar. Last year, for the first time in a while, Hanukkah started at sundown on Christmas Eve and ended on New Year's Day. This phenomenon will not occur again until the year 2027.

For your edification, here are the dates for the eight-day holiday known as Hanukkah (or Chanukah) for the next few years:

2017: Tuesday, December 12 through Wednesday, December 20
2018: Sunday, December 2 through Monday, December 10
2019: Sunday, December 22 through Monday, December 30
2020: Thursday, December 10 through Friday, December 18
2021: Sunday, November 28, 2021 through Monday, December 6
2022: Sunday, December 18 through Monday, December 26

There is now no excuse for your wishing your Jewish friends, if you have any Jewish friends, a "Happy Hanukkah"/"Chappy Chanukah" either too early or too late for it to sound sincere.

We close today's post with a nod in the direction of one Alexander Pope, for reasons that should be obvious:

A Little Learning
(from “An Essay On Criticism”)
by Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744)

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts;
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthened way;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!


  1. I knew the Hebrew calendar was different but never thought to find out how or why. Thank you

  2. Forget Wikipedia! Now we have Bragueopedia! It was enlightening to read Pope's poem again after forty three years because I can now appreciate its meaning more easily than the first time round.