Friday, January 11, 2013

Isn't There Some Jewish Holiday This Week?

In discussing Hanukkah, a friend recently noted (with approval) that Judaism seems to have quite a lot of holidays. "We only really have Christmas and Easter," she said, almost longingly. I smiled. "Well, ours are pretty much all crammed into September." I was thinking back on my first month in Edinburgh, with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and several Shabbat dinners undoubtedly leading my flatmates to believe I was some kind of religious zealot. (When Simchat Torah rolled around a few days later, I munched my candied apple discreetly.) But on my way home from that conversation, I thought about what I had said. Were our holidays really all in September? Because Hanukkah obviously isn't. Neither is Passover. Nor Purim. I began to make a list.

(From right to left:) Rosh Hashanah, Simchat Torah, Sukkot (x2)

According to the internet, Jews celebrate holidays year round. And no, I'm not just talking about Shabbat, which is every Friday. We've got Tu B'Shvat in late January, Lag B'Omer in early May, and even Tisha B'Av in late July. (Jewish holidays follow a lunar calendar, not the January-December Gregorian Calendar, so my date-ranges are approximate.) But some of those sound a little obscure; at least, I don't know what they all are. So I recompiled the list, focusing on the holidays with which I was familiar.

I came up with eight traditional holidays, plus two historical holidays, and finally, the weekly Sabbath  Shabbat. In approximate order of Gregorian Calendar appearance:

  • Tu Bishvat: A winter holiday for trees. Traditionally, eat dried fruits and nuts, such as apricots and almonds.
  • Purim: A spring commemoration of survival despite an evil plot. Important characters include Queen Esther (a good guy) and Haman (a bad guy). Traditionally, eat hamantashen.
  • Passover: A spring festival celebrating exodus from slavery in Egypt. There are seders, bread-free diets, and ten plagues. If you've seen Prince of Egypt, and/or understand what the Last Supper actually was, you're in good shape. Traditionally, eat matzoh, matzoh-ball soup, and gefilte fish.
  • Rosh Hashanah: The Jewish new year, in the fall. Which, let's be honest, makes way more sense to any student than the January date. Traditionally, eat apples and honey.
  • Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement; a somber occasion. Traditionally, eat and drink absolutely nothing for 25 hours.
  • Sukkot: A fall harvest festival with links to wandering in the desert. One typically constructs a sukkah (temporary booth-like dwelling) and uses a lulav and etrog when reciting Sukkot blessings. Traditionally, eat in the sukkah.
  • Simchat Torah: The commemoration of having completed one cycle of reading the Torah, after which begins the cycle again. Traditionally, we have caramel apples.
  • Hanukkah: A winter celebration of miracles and the preservation of Jewish identity, this Festival of Lights consists of candles, dreidels, and presents. Traditionally, eat latkes, sufganiyot, and gelt.

  • Yom Hashoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day, as observed in Israel in the spring. This includes sirens blaring, flags at half-mast, and the lighting of yellow candles in commemoration of the 6 million Jews exterminated during World War II. The holiday also recalls the heroic efforts of Jews and non-Jews alike who helped protect those persecuted and ultimately ended the massacre.
  • Yom Ha'atzmaut: Israeli Independence Day, commemorating the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Independence was declared at the expiration of the British Mandate on May 14th; the holiday, following the lunar calendar, therefore falls near that date.

*Arguably, my historical holidays aren't exclusively Jewish. But hey; the traditional ones aren't exclusive, either. And the historical ones commemorate important events for the Jewish people: an unparalleled tragedy and the creation of a Jewish state in the holy land.

Shabbat: The weekly Sabbath, or Day of Rest, from Friday to Saturday night. Traditionally, eat challah and drink wine.

* * *

So, we have a bunch of celebrations, and they tend to involve food. When should you expect the next Jewish holiday? If you're ever confused, just visit For people who prefer to plan ahead, be sure to check a Jewish (Hebrew) Calendar.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone. Next Shabbat, we're back at Tufts.

Celebrate Judaism differently? Celebrate different cultures or beliefs altogether? Share your favorite holidays, traditional foods, or crazy family stories below. Bonus points if you include recipes or pictures.

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