In our family, we celebrate the “New Year” twice a year.
On December 31, we try to stay up late so we can shout “Happy New Year” as the clock strikes midnight (or at least until the ball drops in Times Square in New York City at 11 pm our time). This year, we welcomed 2014 on the Gregorian calendar with a quiet evening at home with our family.
Each fall, we join other Jewish families around the world in heralding the start of the Jewish New Year with a family dinner. The date of the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, changes each year as it’s tied to the Hebrew calendar, with the holiday taking place at the beginning of the month of Tishrei. This year, my family will join other Jewish families in welcoming in the year 5775, beginning the evening of September 24, 2014.
No matter which date Rosh Hashanah falls on each year, our holiday traditions remain the same. And, at the heart of our celebration is always apples and honey – and a wish for a healthy and sweet New Year.
Welcoming in the “head of the year” on Rosh Hashanah
The Hebrew word Rosh Hashanah is often translated as “head of the year.”
Rosh Hashanah is one of two holidays considered to be the holiest ones on the Hebrew calendar. It is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, a day of atonement for Jewish people.
The High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur offer Jewish people a time for introspection, allowing time to assess any wrongdoings made that year and to also look ahead for ways to make amends and learn from those mistakes in the coming year.
Dipping apples in honey for the Jewish New Year
Each year, my sons can’t wait to eat apples drizzled with honey. They love the combination, but they tend to reserve it for the annual holiday, making it extra sweet and special each year.
The tradition of eating apples and honey is done as a way to help usher in a sweet New Year. We drizzle our hopes onto our sweet, healthy apples, raising them in a virtual toast to a life filled with happiness, benevolence and good cheer for the coming year.
With Rosh Hashanah happening during the fall season, apples are abundant on the trees and burst with the sweetness of the new harvest. Apples also symbolize the beginning of another phase of the growing season – and the never-ending cycle of life.
Eating a round challah on the High Holiday and other family traditions
For Rosh Hashanah, Jewish families eat a circular-shaped challah rather than the typical braided bread enjoyed throughout the year. The circular shape symbolizes the eternal circle of life and the shows us how the end of one year is connected to another.
Many Jewish families also attend services at a synagogue. During the service, a shofar made of a ram’s horn is blown to invite everyone to begin preparations for the High Holidays and to remind Jewish people to make actionable changes to improve their lives in the New Year.
Often, children are given small, plastic shofars of their own to sound their excitement for the New Year.
At the end of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, many families toss small pieces of bread into a flowing body of water (like a lake or river) during a tashlikh ceremony. In doing so, they hope to cast away their sins of the year, helping them begin anew with a clean slate.
Toasting to a healthy and happy New Year
With the start of the High Holidays upon us, we raise our apples and honey to all and wish you a healthy and sweet new year.
How do you celebrate Rosh Hashanah with your family? What foods do you like to enjoy during the holiday? Which holiday traditions do you share with your family? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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