Every Autumn, there’s a distinct feel of New Year in the air. Whether you have school children in your home or not, many things seem to start this month. And if you work in a nursery or school or run children’s work or a children’s club, it definitely feels like a New Year. And yet, we engage in scant few rituals to mark this time of year!
Ironically, the Bible has not one but THREE festivals this month, all listed in Leviticus (as well as other places), giving us three ways to start this new year well.
Now, I’m not suggesting we have to adhere to Biblical rules set out 3000 years ago, or that we adopt Jewish traditions wholesale in a bad case of cultural misappropriation. However, I do think there’s a way we can learn about these ancient practices and lean into them, finding in them truths which help us make sense of our own lives and lead us to a deeper connection with each other and with God.
So here’s a quick introduction to the Autumn Feasts with some ideas on how we could mark these in our lives with our families. For a more indepth exploration and loads more ideas, check out my Autumn Feasts Pack here: Autumn Feasts Resource Pack – GodVenture
1 Rosh Hashana – Jewish New Year
Also known as: Yom Teruah, Day of Shouts / Blasts, Festival of Trumpets
Date 2023: Friday 15th – Saturday 16th September*
Bible Passages: Leviticus 23:23-25
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’”
Themes: creation, waking up, giving, hopes for the year
Rosh Hashana is a joyful celebration, marking the beginning of the New Year (rather than New Year’s eve as we do on 31st December). Rosh Hashana literally means ‘Head of the year’, and since it’s the birthday of the universe, it’s a time to explore the creation story, always a good place to remind ourselves of God’s generous and good creation, and how he said that we are ‘good’.
An easy tradition we always do is to dip apples in honey, talk about our hopes for this year just starting, and to say a blessing on each other. We also always listen to this fast-paced happy song: Dip your apples in the honey by the Fountainheads Dip Your Apple – Fountainheads Rosh Hashanah – YouTube
Other things you could do:
Read or listen to the creation story on an audio Bible and chat using these questions:
Which day is your favourite day in the story?
Why do you think God rested on day seven?
What does this story tell you about how God sees you?
It’s traditional to give money on Rosh Hashana, so you could give some money to a charity you are passionate about, either an extra gift to one you already support or find a new one.
2 Yom Kippur – the day of Atonement
Also known as: the Day of great forgiveness (CEV Bible)
Date (2023): Monday 25th – Tuesday 26th September*
Themes: repentance, forgiveness
Bible Passages: Leviticus 16
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. (Leviticus 16:29-31)
Yom Kippur, in contrast to Rosh Hashana is a serious feast, ending a ten day period of sober introspection running up to it. The idea is to start the year with a review of the last year and clear out the old rubbish to make room for the new.
In Bible times, the day of Yom Kippur was the only day the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies (no-one else was ever allowed in) and he went in with a rope tied to his ankle in case he died and needed to be pulled out! His job was to make sacrifices to atone for the sins of the whole nation. For us, Yom Kippur is a time to reflect on ways we can change and where appropriate, apologise to those we have wronged.
Other things you could do:
Wear white – a traditional way to mark this day, perhaps reflecting the clothes of the priest or the white goat used in the sacrifice.
You could also read Isaiah 58 or the story of Jonah which are traditionally read during this Yom Kippur. We enjoy listening to David Sucket read it on the Your Bible app.
3 Sukkot – the festival of Tabernacles
Also known as: the feast of shelters, festival of Booths
Date 2023: Saturday 29 September – Saturday 7 October*
Bible Passages: Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:17-40; Deuteronomy 16:13-17
Themes: harvest completed, God’s provision, resting from materialism
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do not do any of your ordinary work. For seven days present food offerings to the Lord, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do not do any of your ordinary work… …‘“So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees – from palms, willows and other leafy trees – and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: all native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so that your descendants will know that I made the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”’ Leviticus 23:33-35; 39-43
This festival is all about eating – and it’s more about where you eat than what you eat. The command is to build a sukkot, or shelter and to live in it for a week to remember how God’s people lived in tents in the desert, and how God tabernacled (lived) with them, leading them and providing everything they needed, just as he does for us.
For Orthodox Jews, there are very specific rules about your tabernacle building, but we’ve been quite relaxed about it, sometimes eating under a tree or putting up a tent in the garden. The key is to ‘live’ there, which generally means you need to eat there. So picnics and dinners eaten outside are the thing to go for.
Other things you could do:
This is a blessing of first, which I love as it’s a simple but profound way to mark the beginning of something, and how God has brought us to this time and this place.
The Hebrew translated roughly:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this whistlestop tour of the Autumn Feasts and have found something to help you mark this season in your family. If you’d like more info and ideas on how to celebrate, check out my Autumn Feasts Pack here: Autumn Feasts Resource Pack – GodVenture
* Jewish days start at sundown, as in Genesis 1:5: “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”