Sukkot is a Jewish festival which starts on Tishri the 15th, 5 days after the conclusion of Yom Kippur. It is perhaps one of the most joyful holidays observed by the Jews. It is the third Festival of the “Shalosh R’galim,” one of three festivals related to pilgrimages (the other two are Shavuot and Passover).
Origin of Sukkot
Sukkot has an origin which is agricultural and historical. It honors the period of forty years in which the Jews wandered throughout the desert, living as nomads. Agriculturally it is considered a festival of harvest. The name Sukkot translates into “booths” and is a reference to the temporary homes where Jews are expected to live during this observance, a reminder of wandering in the desert.
Sukkot lasts for one week or seven days. The two days which succeed it (Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret) are related to Sukkot but are considered separate observances in themselves. Like many Jewish celebrations Sukkot is an ancient one that was first established within Leviticus. No labor is permissible during the first two days of this celebration but for the remaining 5 days’ work can be performed.
Constructing A Sukkah
The key thing which makes this holiday different from other Jewish celebrations is that Jews are commanded to briefly live in shelters which are separate from their normal domiciles. This is meant to symbolize the dwellings that their ancestors lived in when traveling through the desert as nomads. This shelter is called the sukkah and it must be constructed annually, which is a lot of fun for children.
The command to “dwell” within the sukkah means that, at the bare minimum, Jews should have all their meals there during the holiday, but if the weather is good and one has robust health they should remain in the sukkah as much as possible for the duration of Sukkot. The walls of the sukkah must be designed in such a way where the wind will not blow them apart.
It is not necessary for the walls to be constructed from solid materials and in the U.S. it is common to use canvas cover which is nailed down or tied. “Sukkahs” (or Sukkot) may come in numerous sizes so long as they are big enough for a family to dwell in them. A number of similarities have been made between Sukkot and Thanksgiving.
Building a sukkah from scratch is a lot of fun for many, especially Jewish youth. However, for those who don’t have the time or inclination it is possible to purchase one ready made from numerous sources, including the internet. Decorating the sukkah is a popular activity among Jews, and one of the most popular is the hanging of a corn or squash which is dried, since these vegetables are easy and cost effective to acquire.
Some Jewish families will also decorate the walls of their sukkah with artwork that has been made by their children. The construction and decoration of the sukkah is a very exciting activity and has been compared to families who decorate a tree in preparation for Christmas.