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Jewish Holidays & Celebrations Explained
Jewish holidays are full of tradition and rich in history. Some focus on solemn occasions while others are lively and festive. Read on to learn why each holiday is celebrated.
Shabbat is considered the most important of all Jewish holidays. It is the day of rest and weekly observance of God's completion of creation. Starting on Friday night an hour before sunset, it lasts for 25 hours until sunset on Saturday night.
During the fall when the days begin to shorten and the leaves begin to change, Jewish tradition encourages us to look inward as we prepare for the New Year ahead. The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) is a holiday marked by festive meals with foods symbolizing our hopes for the new year—such as apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year and pomegranates for a year of plenty—and a day spent in prayer or quiet meditation. Learn more
The most solemn day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement offers an entire day devoted to self–examination. Many spend the day in synagogue devoted to prayer and study while abstaining from food and drink. The goal is to begin the New Year with a clean slate. Learn more
This seven–day festival celebrates the fall harvest and also commemorates the time when the Hebrews dwelt in the Sinai wilderness on their way to the Promised Land of Israel. The holiday is celebrated by building (and then dwelling in) ceremonial huts called Sukkot, waving of four different plant species (palm, myrtle, willow and citron), and many food-filled festive gatherings in the Sukkah. Watch video explaining Sukkot.
This holiday literally means the “8th day of assembly.” It is a festive day after the week-long festival of Sukkot, and is marked by the annual prayer for rain recited in synagogue. In Israel and in liberal (Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal) communities outside of Israel it is combined with the holiday of Simchat Torah.
Simchat Torah marks the end and the beginning of the annual Torah reading cycle. Every week all over the world, the same Torah portion is read in Jewish communities. On Simchat Torah the cycle ends and begins again. This is accompanied by parading the Torah scrolls about and with singing and dancing.
This beloved 8–day Jewish winter festival celebrates the miracle of a small cruse of oil when it burned for 8 days, instead of only one. It also celebrates the military victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the powerful Syrian Greek army in 167 BCE. The victory was followed by a rededication (Hanukkah) of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. It is from this act that the holiday gets its name. Learn more
This is the Jewish New Year of the Trees. Observances include planting of trees, purchasing trees to be planted in Israel, and a mystical Tu B'Shevat ritual meal that includes different colored wine (from white to red) and different kinds of fruits and nuts.
The name of this holiday means “lots”, so named for the lots that were drawn to determine a dark day in Jewish history. As luck would have it, those dark days never arrived, as the evil villian's plans were thwarted by the clever Jewish Queen Esther, whose story is recounted in the Biblical Scroll of Esther. Celebrations include a public reading of the scroll, giving gifts to friends and to the needy, dressing up in costume, eating a special triangle-shaped pastry, the hamantaschen, and the drinking of alcohol for those of drinking age. Read more and check out a special hamantashen recipe. Need some costume ideas? Check these out!
This seven or eight day festival of freedom marks the Hebrew exodus from Egypt long ago. The story is told during a festive ritual meal called a “Seder.” During the festival, it is traditional to abstain from all foods containing leaven; that is, foods made from grain that have not been prepared according to a strict Passover cooking procedure. Among the grain foods that are permitted is matzah, an unleavened bread that is baked before it has a chance to rise.
Get recipes and learn more about Passover >>
Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day)
Jews all over the world mourn the loss of six million Jewish lives lost during the Holocaust as part of Hitler's genocidal “Final Solution.”
Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day)
On this Memorial Day, we commemorate the soldiers who have fallen fighting for Israel’s independence and defending its security. This holiday falls the day before Israel's Independence Day.
Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day)
This holiday celebrates the independence of the Modern State of Israel. In Israel the day of Yom HaAtzmaut is marked with fireworks, barbeques, and outdoor revelry. For Jewish communities outside of Israel it is a time to gather and celebrate our pride and connection to the Jewish homeland.
This holiday marks the 33rd day of the 49-day “Omer” period between Passover and Shavuot. This 7 week period called “the Omer” is traditionally a quiet time on the Jewish calendar, but Lag B’Omer, which occurs on the 33rd day is an exception. Bonfires, outdoor parties and revelry rule the day, which is also a popular Jewish wedding date.
Try this tasty S'more Brownie recipe in honor of Lag B'Omer!
Shavuot is the holiday celebration of the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. The celebration of Shavuot is also the Festival of First Fruits and Grains, a fulfillment of the promise of spring. The name means “weeks”, so named for the 7-week period from Passover to Shavuot. Learn more
An important fast day in the Jewish calendar is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. The day commemorates the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE.
Held six days after the fast day of Tisha B’Av comes a festival of love! A popular wedding date, the day is celebrated in the best way possible with wine, chocolate and roses!