The Jewish holiday of Passover (or Pesach if you wanna be OG) begins this Friday evening. For those not in the know, Passover involves a meal called a Seder (say-dare) on the first night, and 8 days of abstinence from leavened breads. (It’s kind of like Lent, but without the choice of what to give up.) Instead of bread, we eat matzah, which is like a giant unsalted cracker.
As important as this holiday is (it celebrates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt), it has one major flaw: it sucks. I like eating bread. It sucks not being able to eat bread for a week, especially when I was a kid and that meant little to no school lunch and no snacks at soccer games. The Seder can be fun, but it also takes a really long time. I would go so far as to say that Passover is one of my least favorite Jewish holidays.
That begs the question, though: If Passover is towards the bottom of the list, then what’s at the top? What are my favorite Jewish holidays? How would they rank on a list?
Wonder no more, dear readers. Here’s my ranking of the eight fun Jewish holidays. I say “fun” to differentiate these from “serious” holidays, like Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), which wouldn’t be appropriate to joke about.
(Editor’s note: All days are the days these holidays will fall on this year.)
8. Shavuot (June 5-6)
Shavuot (shah-voo-oat) is a holiday celebrating the reception of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and is celebrated by staying up all night to read Jewish texts, eating dairy foods like cheesecake and reading the Book of Ruth. Despite this sounding like a pleasant holiday, my experience with it has been so milquetoast that I don’t remember ever actually doing anything for it. I’ve got one song about Shavuot stuck in my head as I’m writing this, but that’s all I remember. It’s not a bad holiday by any means, but nobody’s going crazy over it.
7. Passover (April 16-23)
Despite my dislike of it, there are fun parts of Passover. The Seder includes the search for the Afikomen (ah-fee-koh-men), where one piece of matzah is hidden and all the kids in attendance search for it. The winner gets a prize (it was always candy when I was a kid). Also, matzo ball soup is my favorite traditional holiday food. Even if I don’t celebrate Passover anymore I still eat matzo ball soup.
6. Simchat Torah (Oct. 18)
The Torah, the big scroll the Rabbi reads from during services, contains the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Simchat Torah (sim-khat, with the phlegm noise) marks the day we read the last chapter of Deuteronomy (33:1–34:12, where Moses dies) and start the first chapter of Genesis (1:1–2:3, back in the Garden of Eden). We celebrate this by carrying the Torah around the sanctuary seven times and dancing. It doesn’t sound like an exciting holiday, but a good synagogue makes this one a blast.
5. Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 26-27)
The fun half of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated by eating apples dipped in honey and throwing bread crumbs into moving bodies of water to cast away our sins. (And if you’re lucky you get to miss school that day to attend services.) While it’s a bit more serious than the rest of the holidays on this list, it gives me enough positive memories to include it.
4. Tu B’Shevat (Jan. 17)
Also known as the New Year of the Trees or Birthday of the Trees, Tu B’Shevat (two bish-vat) marks the coming of Spring (despite falling in January this year when everything is still cold and icky). It’s celebrated by having picnics, eating fruit and planting more trees. Planting trees in general is a mitzvah (good thing to do), so having a whole holiday about planting them is cool. It’s just a bit boring compared to Sukkot, another plant-based holiday.
3. Purim (March 17)
One of the few major Jewish holiday stories to be made into a “Veggietales” special, Purim celebrates the events of the Megillah of Esther, who saved the Jews of Ancient Persia from being sentenced to death by Haman. During this holiday we recite the Megillah (story), and whenever Haman’s name is read we make as much noise as possible to drown his name out. It’s pretty theatrical. We also dress up in costume, eat cookies called Hamantaschen (Haman’s hats) and give care packages to those in need. This one gets third because Hamantaschen aren’t great cookies, very dry and crumbly with a paltry amount of jam in the middle. If I could find a good recipe for Hamantaschen I’m sure this holiday would rank higher.
2. Sukkot (Oct. 10-11)
The harvest festival of Sukkot (sue-coat) is celebrated by building a Sukkah (soo-kuh), a temporary dwelling space. You’re supposed to spend the night in the Sukkah, which I have never done for weather reasons but we’ve at least had sleepovers. You also celebrate by waving around a lulav and etrog (loo-lahv and et-rawg), which are respectively a palm branch with myrtle and willow leaves and a citrus fruit similar to a lemon, and by eating fruits that are in season. I think the placement of this one is obvious: fruit yummy, camping fun.
1. Hanukkah (Dec. 19-26)
I mean, come on, what did you think it was gonna be? Commemorating the battle between the Jews and the Syrian-Greeks in which the Jews miraculously won and restored their Temple’s eternal light, the Festival of Lights has presents, candles, fried foods and games. It’s the only one I regularly actively celebrate with my family, and the only one I really look forward to.
If you ever get the chance to celebrate any of these holidays with either the local synagogue Temple Israel or one in your hometown, they’re certainly worth your time. Most of these are chill enough that non-Jews can respectfully attend and enjoy them. As someone passionate about Jewish visibility and inclusion, I’m always happy to talk about the fun parts of my religion.
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