Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sukkot: The Festival of Booths

Have you seen some strange booth-like shacks in people's backyards and driveways in the past few days? Seen people having lunch and dinner in these little shacks? Entertaining their friends and family with big dinners and then singing until late into the night? Want to know what these people are doing, and why the little shacks appear and then disappear a few days later?

This is the festival of Sukkot, literally translated as the festival of booths. It is a period when your Jewish neighbors fullful the mitzvah of building and then 'living' in the sukkah for 8 days. In modern times, most people don't actually live in the sukkah anymore, but they do eat in them, and occasionally sleep in them.

When I was a child, nobody had a sukkah that we knew, and we grew up in a very observant Jewish community. To fulfil the mitzvah you ate in the synagogue's sukkah but building and decorating your own backyard sukkah wasn't done. Or if it was, it wasn't common. But that changed in the past 20 or so years. Every year more and more Jewish families purchase or build a sukkah, until these days when it's common to see them sprout up all over our town during sukkot. In fact, one of the things we like to do as a family is drive around the Centre and check out all the different sukkahs that are up, especially those in driveways. There's one in town that has an actual door and windows in it. Tres fancy!

The lumberyard/handware store nearby actually sells sukkah kits every year. Our first family sukkah was one of these, but we only used it for about 3 years and then we graduated to the extreme sukkah, which is easy to put up, works well in rain and cold weather to block the wind, and is very easy to decorate. It is a canvas sukkah, hung on steel poles that screw together easily. It takes about an hour to put up, and about 3 hours to decorate!

The sukkah is supposed to have at least 3 sides, and the roof is made of living material like branches, palm fronds, or bamboo mats. You must be able to see through the roof. The rest of the materials can range from wood to plastic to canvas. Ours is the canvas one seen throughout this post. We like it because it's easy to assemble and warm! On these cold New England nights, you want a sukkah that will protect you from the wind and possibly from rain. The canvas sukkah does both admirably.

This is the Jewish family's time to get down and funky and decorate the sukkah with hanging fruits, fancy lights, cards and pictures, etc. Most have a folding table and chairs that people squish around. In our sukkah we use a fall theme with silk leaves and lots of little fairy lights, fancy fruits we purchase left over after that OTHER holiday where people decorate to the utmost, and lots of fall type decorations. Every year we get a few more things as other stuff breaks or disintegrates from being outside in questionable weather.

When my kids were little, they used to look so forward to sleeping in the sukkah. Now, not so much. It's cold here at night, and they're older and complain about sleeping on the ground, blah blah blah. That's OK. I don't sleep in it either.

But when they were little, and we lived in California, there was nothing more exciting than camping out in the sukkah! Weren't they cute?


cesnh said...

I've never seen one but loved reading about the tradition. Thanks for including the photos.

sandy shoes said...

What other holiday ;)?

That's cool. From one of the most serious times of the year to one of the most joyous.

Happy Sukkot, if that's said... if not, I'm a dork, but I mean well.

cape buffalo said...

That's adorable. I've never heard of this before, but what a cool custom!

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Very cool! I've heard of this holiday but really didn't understand it---thanks for making it clearer! And, your kids in the sleeping bags are adorable!

Candace said...

wow! how lovely was this post? We have a small jewish community where we live but my kids are at the JCC and just celebrated and learned all about the sukkah. It's a small jewish cyber community too that I've found so far too so this was really nice for me to stumble upon (via trenches)

pinks & blues girls said...

Yes, incredibly cute!

Thanks for writing about this... I actually had never heard of it before.

Jane, Pinks & Blues

Whirlwind said...

I had never heard about this holiday nor seen and sukkah's. It's very interesting to read about. Thanks for sharing.

Marie said...

I nannied for a Jewish family a few years ago and got to be part of a sukkah celebration. It was really interesting and fun! I enjoyed your post!

Tricia said...

My neighbors used to do this. I always wondered about it. Thank you for enlightening me! :)