The Jewish calendar is full of holidays and holy days, but most American and European Jews just celebrate the main holidays of Passover, Rosh HaShanah, and Hanukkah. They’re the three main events that families love to get together for and mark with a traditional holiday dinner.
Purim, Shavuot, and Sukkot are also enjoyable holidays with some fun traditions. Some Jewish communities in the US still celebrate them with social events or organized activities. Purim in particular is partytime. Sukkot can also be a lot of fun if you’re building a sukkah with the kids.
Unless you’re religious, most of the other holidays and holy days aren’t really relevant. We’ll take a closer look at the biggest and most popular Jewish holidays. They all have ancient rituals and traditions – including amazing food – and there’s always an opportunity to
Top 3 Popular Jewish Holidays
The top 3 popular Jewish holidays in the US and Israel are
Passover and Rosh HaShanah are public holidays in Israel and provide a welcome break from work. Modern Hanukkah celebrations are really geared towards kids. Israeli schools give students a week-long break, but adults usually work as normal.
How to Celebrate Passover?
Passover is an ancient Jewish holiday that celebrates the Exodus, or flight of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt. It’s likely that Passover (also known as Pesach) has even deeper origins and may have been an early agricultural festival.
Passover is traditionally celebrated with a ritual Seder dinner. The exact form of the Seder meal has undoubtedly changed and evolved over the last couple of thousand years (and there are different traditions today). It’s still a unique annual event that provides a living link to centuries of Jewish history and heritage. A full Seder gathering, with extended family and guests, recreates the special atmosphere that our distant ancestors in Biblical Israel would have cherished.
The Modern Seder Ritual
The modern Seder ritual varies according to each family’s religious beliefs, interest in tradition – and willingness to delay tucking into a hearty meal! Religious families, and families with young kids can make the Seder meal into a long evening of ritual observance, with readings, questions, and even singing.
Most modern American Jews prefer to observe the basic form of the Seder, and then get down to the serious business of eating.
Reading from the Haggadah
Drinking four cups of blessed wine
Eating the ritual foods and asking the four questions.
Pesach is an important annual event. If you’re a regular Passover host, it’s worth investing in all the items you need to create a truly stunning Passover table. If you’re a guest at a Seder, you can show your gratitude with a Passover gift.
There are no hard and fast rules about the style of tableware and silverware for a Passover table. Some people love traditional handmade Judaica and want to invite guests to a candlelit table laden with gleaming silver dishes. People with modern tastes opt for stylish home decor items with brightly colored anodized aluminum, painted ceramics, designer glassware, or even minimalist cast concrete Passover candlesticks.
Judaica Passover items like Kiddush cups, wine fountains and silver (or anodized aluminum) candlesticks can be used all year round. They are also ideal for Shabbat dinners and for other Jewish holidays. Don’t worry if you’ll only be using a matzos plate or Seder plate once a year. A beautifully decorated handmade plate is an amazing ornament. It will look great on your dresser or in a display case.
When is Passover 2022?
The official date for Pesach is Nisan 15th- 25th. Nisan is the Hebrew month that corresponds with April. Passover 2022 is already over. Passover 2023 will start at sundown on the 5th April and end on 13th April.
How to Celebrate Rosh HaShanah?
The lives of our ancient Israelite ancestors were largely defined by the changing seasons and the annual agricultural cycle of planting and harvesting. Their new year began in early autumn and the modern Rosh Hashanah still falls in either September or October.
Rosh HaShanah is a public holiday in Israel and is an important family event. It’s a particularly welcome annual holiday because it coincides with the end of the hottest summer weather and the gradual transition to pleasant sunny days and cooler evenings. Most Israelis and secular Jews in the US mark Rosh HaShanah with family get-togethers and a traditional New Year dinner.
The Modern Jewish New Year Celebrations
Many families will enjoy a “Rosh HaShanah Seder”. This isn’t the same as the ritual Passover Seder, but does include traditional new year foods and special blessings. Most people associate honey, apples and pomegranates with Rosh HaShanah. They are seasonal fruits in Israel and have a strong connection to the New Year celebrations.
Rosh HaShanah has its deepest origins in ancient Middle Eastern agriculture. The holiday had special significance for early Kibbutzniks and other Zionists who strived to reclaim the land and establish productive fields and orchards. Traditional Rosh HaShanah foods include locally harvested dates, peas, spinach, pumpkins and other vegetables. Ashkenazis also serve gefilte fish at Rosh HaShanah Seders.
In most cultures and communities around the world the New Year is an opportunity to renew ties with friends, acquaintances, and business contacts. Rosh HaShanah greeting cards are a popular way for Jews to send New Year messages and good wishes. The most beautiful cards are handmade in Israel, or feature fine art prints of natural scenes by top Israeli artists.
Every Jewish home should have a good set of wine cups or Kiddush cups. Even if you’re a non-drinker, or aren’t a fan of fine wine, they are ideal for serving Shabbat grape juice in style. Honey dishes and honey spoons are popular Rosh HaShanah Judaica items, but if you love Israeli honey, they’ll get year-round use. Challah boards and challah knives are also basic Shabbat and holiday items.
When is Rosh HaShanah 2022?
The official date for Rosh HaShanah is Tishrei 1st – 2nd. Tishrei is the Hebrew month that coincides with September and October. Rosh HaShanah 2022 will start at sundown on the 25th September and end at nightfall on 27th September. Israelis will enjoy an extra long weekend break this year as the 25th September is a Sunday.
How to Celebrate Hanukkah?
Modern Hanukkah is a fun holiday for kids, but the ritual candle lighting celebrates an early Jewish military victory. Hanukkah commemorates the liberation of ancient Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple during the Maccabean Revolt – over two thousand years ago.
Hanukkah is a winter holiday that is famous for the ritual candle lighting over eight nights. For many 21st century Jews, Hanukkah is the Jewish equivalent of Christmas and has a similar festive spirit. Families make an effort to gather around the Hanukkiah (nine branch Hanukkah menorah or candelabra) every evening. In Israel, many workplaces gather staff together for candle lighting and provide wine and snacks. The traditional Hanukkah treat is sufganiyot or jam donuts.
Modern Jewish Hanukkah Celebrations
If you have kids, Hanukkah is a big date on the family calendar. Everybody enjoys lighting the Hanukkiah and children love the chance to take their turn as Shammash (candle lighter). In stricter, more conservative, and sometimes poorer times, Hanukkah was traditionally a chance to indulge children and even to spoil them a little.
As well as tasty Hanukkah food like sufganiyot or latkes, there might be hanukkah gelt (small gifts of money) or other presents. The other special Hanukkah tradition that is still hugely popular is dreidels or Jewish spinning tops. These simple toys have delighted children for around two thousand years – and possibly much longer.
Old fashioned Hanukkah dreidels were decorated with the Hebrew letters נגהש. The modern handmade dreidels from Jerusalem continue the tradition. The beauty of dreidels is the simplicity of their design. Even a poor family could easily produce a colorful toy that would keep kids amused for hours. Today’s kids love them just as much – despite the competition from PlayStations and TV.
Hanukkah is an eight night festival that begins on Kislev 25th. This year, Kislev 25th falls on Sunday December 18th. Hanukkah 2022 coincides with the Christmas week and Jews in the diaspora may be on vacation for at least some of the holiday. Children in the public school system will certainly be at home. Hanukkah 2022 could be a special holiday, especially if there are no more COVID-19 restrictions!
Passover, Rosh HaShanah and Hanukkah are the top 3 Jewish holidays, but Shavuot, Sukkot and Purim are also important events in the Jewish Calendar. We’ll take a look at them in another blog post and explore fun traditions like Haman’s ears and building sukkahs.
Nadav Art ”is a workshop and gallery for Judaica, gifts, and jewelry located in the beating heart of Jerusalem.
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