Truth be told, however, both Holidays do celebrate Freedom of religion – but that is probably where the similarities end. Thanksgiving commemorates two historical events central to American Identity: the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, and the way the Native Americans saved the Pilgrims from starving during their first year. The first event was the triumph over the religious persecution in the Old Country, while the second refers to a feeling of welcoming into the New Country.
There is, however, a problem with that little neat story...the colonies, initially were also organized along religious lines and most of them adopted official religions, in effect replicating in their persecution of those who didn't follow the colony's brand of Christianity the very same climate they escaped themselves by leaving the British Islands. It would be a couple of Centuries until true religious freedom would take root on American soil. Yet, at the same time, were it not for the Pilgrim's landing, none of it would have come to happen. As for the second event, it marks the sad fact that while the initial contact with the people already occupying the land was peaceful and friendly, it was just the calm preceding the storm – when European American would displace the American Indians from most of the North American continent.
As for Hanukkah, it marks the remembrance of how a group of determined guerilla fighters led by the Hasmonean family of Priests defeated the Syrian Greeks who were better equipped, better trained and better financed. The war against the forces of Anthiocus Epiphanes was the war of a colonized people against the colonizers; a victory of Freedom over Oppression. Or so the story goes.
While the victory of the 25 of Kislev marked in fact a major victory for those who wished to preserved the distinctiveness and vitality of Jewish culture as well as Jewish political independence, the Hanukkah story we generally hear leaves out some facts. It would be just two generations or less before the descendants of those brave leaders of the rebellion against Syria would adopt Greek culture themselves; just a blinking eye in the face of History before they would send their own armies against surrounding people and forcibly convert them to Judaism.
Both stories, however, (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah) are important not because of their historical accuracy but because of their centrality to National Identity building. It is not about what happened but about what the people who tell the story wanted their future to be. In every Human action there is always a potential for improvement and a potential for things getting worse; it is our retelling of the story with a selective choice of facts that transforms those Human events into iconic ones, and makes them fit for building an identity around them. So both Holidays do indeed celebrate the same thing: an intention of creating a society in which people would be free to practice (or not practice) religion in any way they see fit.
So now we come to the Pew Research Institute Study on Jewish Americans. The Study shows many trends prevalent among American Jews...from the rise of Intermarriage rates to the denominational drift within American Judaism away from Orthodoxy and toward “Jews without religion”. Most of the trends, however, are not unique to American Jews but common to most ethnic and religious groups in America. If there is one unassailable conclusion to be learned from the Study is that American Jews made it...they have integrated (and continue to integrate) to American society, and their social behavior resembles more and more each generation the social behavior of their fellow Americans.
And that is why “Thanksgivukkah” strikes such a strong note. It represents the coming together of Jewishness and American Identity; a coming together of the Maccabees and the Pilgrims; not the real Maccabees and Pilgrims of history, but those of the National narratives. It brings Judah Maccabee to Massachusetts and the Pilgrims to Modi'in. It reinforces American Jewish Identity.
Again, the real meaning of Thanksgivukkah is not what the crude facts reveal (a once in many lifetimes historical coincidence) but what we want it to be.