What Is Sukkot? These Are the Traditions and Meanings Behind the Jewish Harvest Celebration

On Friday, the Jewish holiday Sukkot will begin, running until the following Friday on October 9. It's a week-long celebration, also known as the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles.

According to Chabad.org, the holiday is a harvest celebration and "commemorates the miraculous protection G‑d provided for the children of Israel when they left Egypt."

The holiday is named for the hut-like booths that are meant to resemble the ones that Jews stayed in while embarking on their 40-year trek through the desert after leaving Egypt in Exodus, according to Jewish traditions. These structures are called "sukkah" ("sukkot" appears to be the plural), as per Chabad.org.

Jews begin celebrating Sukkot by first building a sukkah, in which they're expected to eat for the duration of the festival. Some people also choose to sleep in it. Chabad.org explains that Jews are expected "to spend as much time as possible" in the sukkah.

Judaism 101 explains how to build a sukkah. While the materials used can vary depending on what the celebrant has available, as well as the climate, a sukkah must have two-and-a-half walls and a roof made of "sekhakh," which must be a material grown from the ground such as branches. Ideally, rain should be able to enter the sukkah, with enough space in the roof. Sukkot can also be decorated by the family.

The first day of Sukkot is considered a holiday (although Chabad.org notes that the first day lasts from sundown on Friday until nightfall on Sunday), and Jews aren't supposed to work. Special meals and prayers are said at night.

On the other days, people are expected to "dwell" in the sukkah by spending time in it and having meals in it. Judaism 101 notes that the "Four Species" (also called the "Four Kinds") are used in prayer. The Four Species (a citron, palm branch, two willow branches, and three myrtle branches) are held together with dried palm leaves and waved in the four compass directions as well as up and down while a blessing is recited. It's also used for Hallel prayers.

Cookbook author Tori Avey notes on her website that the only traditional foods associated with Sukkot are stuffed dumplings known as "kreplach." She says that fruits and harvest vegetables are appropriate for meals during the holiday, as are other traditional Jewish foods like challah and kugel.

Chabad.org explains that the two days following Sukkot are also holidays called Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish worshippers hold the four plant species -- palm leave stalk, citrus, myrtle and willow-branches -- during the annual Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) as part of Sukkot holiday, or the feast of the Tabernacles, at the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem on October 16, 2019. Getty/MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP