ROSH HASHANAH 101: WHAT IS IT, AND HOW IS IT CELEBRATED?

ROSH HASHANAH 101: WHAT IS IT, AND HOW IS IT CELEBRATED?

Posted by Yevgeni Kuritski on 9th Aug 2015

Rosh HaShanah Honey and Apple PlateCongratulations—or, if you prefer, mazel tov—you’ve been invited to your first Rosh Hashanah party!

…But you don’t know the first thing about Rosh Hashanah, what it means, why it’s celebrated, or even how to celebrate it. You want to go, of course, but you don’t want to come across as being ignorant or unaware in front of the other guests as well. Never fear. This quick Rosh Hashanah guide, courtesy of YourHolyLandStore.ca, will help you know what’s what when it comes to Rosh Hashanah and how it’s celebrated.

To begin with, Rosh Hashanah is also called “the Feast of Trumpets,” and marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. For those wondering what that is, or how that came to be, the Hebrew Calendar predates the one we use worldwide today—the Georgian Calendar, which stems from Pope Gregory XIII. The two do not coincide, and so that means everything from a different year (it is the year 5775 by the Hebrew Calendar) to the Jewish New Year almost always occurring on a day besides December 31 st.

How you celebrate Rosh Hashanah will vary depending on what form of Judaism you practice—the most Orthodox Jews celebrate for two days, while Reform and secular Jews generally only celebrate for one day. Traditional Rosh Hashanah ceremonies include the blowing of a ram horn, known as a shofar, which proclaims the New Year and religious services. These services mark an entire week of prayer which begins the Jewish New Year, and so Rosh Hashanah isn’t simply the festive end of year excuse to party that New Year’s Eve is. In the same way “ Shabbat Shalom” is a traditional greeting with respect to Shabbat, “Shannah Shovah,” which means “A Good Year,” is the de facto greeting for Rosh Hashanah.

That said, there are certainly a lot of fun traditions that make up a traditional Rosh Hashanah celebration, with food being an especially notable example. Some of the most prominent foods include gefilte fish, brisket, various fruit baskets, pomegranates, and especially honey-dipped apples or other, similar honey-glazed desserts, the last of which is symbolic of the sweetness which should hopefully accompany the coming of the Jewish New Year. The menu can vary, in part, based upon what area from which the Diaspora the Jewish hosts in question hail—the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe have vastly different definitions, and so, the dishes Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews might serve different things. As with any occasion where food is presented, entrées as well as the dishes upon which they are served can make for good, seasonal gifts. That being said, there is far less of an emphasis on gift giving for this day than on a holiday such as, say,  Chanukah, the latter being a more minor holiday spiritually that has been transformed into a gift-giving season relatively recently, whereas Rosh Hashanah is and always has been one of the most prominent and important dates for observant and secular Jews alike.