Welcome to the Jewish Care Interact guide to Jewish festivals and key dates for the year. Here we’ll be taking a look at each of the main festivals and events celebrated throughout the Jewish year and will give you some brief ideas on what to celebrate and how to celebrate it.
Some of the festivals are Yom Tovs, which means that the Torah prohibits work on that day, much like laws of Shabbat. The festivals are listed in chronological order according to their Western calendar dates. Other key dates include minor festivals, memorial days (many of which have recently been introduced) and rabbinically introduced fast days where work may be permitted. Each of these distinctions is highlighted below.
If you have any suggestions for traditions or food for any of the festivals, then we’d love to know. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have anything to contribute to this collection of Jewish festivals. And if you'd like to make your own items to help you celebrate the festivities, jump over to the Arts and crafts page in the Jewish life and culture section of this site.
1 Tishri through 2 Tishri
Yom Tov on both days.
Known as the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of Adam and Eve. It is the time where G-d decides the future of all people for the upcoming year. You can download more details from this Rosh_Hashanah_factsheet.pdf (PDF, 62.75 KB).
Traditions: An important part of Rosh Hashanah is to hear the sound of the Shofar (ram’s horn), which is blown 100 times in Synagogue. It is traditional to throw bread into running water, as it marks the removal of sin for the year ahead.
Foods: Round challahs are eaten to mark the cycle of life. Apple is dipped into honey which symbolises the fruit from the Garden of Eden and the hope of a sweet New Year. Honey cake is also popular.
Fast of Gedalliah
A minor fast day to mark the killing of the Babylonian Governor Gedalliah.
Foods: No food or drink from sunrise to sunset.
Known as The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is a strict fast day to atone for sins and reflect upon the past year. Many people spend all day in synagogue to pray. A remembrance prayer, Yizkor, is said in the morning.
Traditions: No work is done. Leather shoes are not worn, and many men dress in white as a mark of purity.
Foods: No food or drink; there is a 25 hour fast from sunset to sunset.
15 Tishri through 21 Tishri
Yom Tov on first and second days.
Succot is a harvest festival where people build a canopy called a Succah and cover it in greenery. It marks the Jews living in tents whilst wandering through the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. You can download more details from this Succot_factsheet.pdf (PDF, 59.79 KB).
Traditions: Eating and sleeping in the Succah are commonplace. People shake a group of branches called a Lulav and smell a fruit called an Etrog.
Foods: Fruit, vegetables and other harvest foods.
This is the seventh day of Succot; it is known as the last of the Days of Judgement.
Traditions: All the scrolls are taken out of the Ark and the congregation makes seven circuits around the synagogue with them.
Succot lasts for seven days and is meant for all mankind. Shemini Atzeret is like the eighth day, as it is often suggested that G-d invites the Jewish people to stay in the Succah for an extra day. You can download more details from this Shemini_Atzeret_and_Simchat_Torah_factsheet.pdf (PDF, 61.53 KB).
Traditions: Whilst people still eat in the Succah on this day, there is no need to have the Lulav and Etrog.
Simchat Torah is a joyous occasion that marks the end of the cycle of reading the Torah and the start of the new cycle. You can download more details from this Shemini_Atzeret_and_Simchat_Torah_factsheet.pdf (PDF, 61.53 KB).
Traditions: The scrolls are taken out of the Ark and danced around the synagogue whilst the congregation is singing. It is customary for every man to be called up to the Torah.
Foods: Adults often throw sweets for the children to collect.
25 Kislev through 3 Tevet
The Festival of Lights remembers the miracle of the oil in the Temple lasting for eight days when there was only enough for one day. King Antiochus tried to stop Jews from practising Judaism, but a revolt stopped the King from destroying the Temple.
Traditions: A nine branched menorah, called a Chanukiah, is lit every day with one extra candle added per day until all are lit on the eighth day. Children receive gifts from relatives, especially Chanukah gelt (also known as chocolate money).
Fast of Tevet
In 425 BCE, the Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem, eventually destroying the Temple. The 10th of Tevet is a fast day in remembrance of the event.
Traditions: Singing of Selichot, songs of prayer for the festival.
Foods: No food or drink today from daybreak to sunset.
Tu B'shvat is the new year for trees. At this time of year, trees in Israel start to bear fruit for the first time.
Traditions: Some people like to plant trees on this day, and children often collect money to plant trees in Israel.
Foods: It’s customary to eat fruit on this day, particularly if the fruit is grown in Israel and mentioned in the Torah. Typical foods include grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
Fast of Esther
13 Adar II
The Fast of Esther is a minor fast day that lasts from daybreak until sunset and takes place on the day before Purim. When Esther's Uncle Mordechai told her of Haman’s plans to kill the Jews, she asked him to call for a three day fast.
Foods: No food and drink today.
14 Adar II
Purim celebrates when the Jews were saved from Haman’s plan to destroy them. Haman was Prime Minister under King Ahasuerus, but a Jewish girl, Esther, became King Ahasuerus’s new queen, and with the help of her uncle, Mordechai, she saved the Jews.
Traditions: Hearing the Megillah, the Book of Esther, with listeners encouraged to boo and make noise at every mention of Haman's name. People give charity to those in need and also send Mishloach Manot (gift packages of food and drink) to friends as a sign of friendship. People dress up in fancy dress costumes to attend the reading of the Megillah.
Foods: Hamentaschen, which means Haman’s Ears or Haman’s Pockets, is a wrapped pastry normally made with either a poppy seed, fruit or chocolate filling. It is also customary to drink alcohol…..lots of alcohol! The idea is to lose inhibitions and to experience Purim from the heart.
15 Adar II
The day after Purim commemorates when the Jews of the Persian capital, Shushan, rested after defeating their enemies. There are no official traditions or foods associated with this day.
Fast of the Firstborn
A fast day only for the firstborn, this day is set aside to remember the plague of the killing of the firstborn in Egypt, when the Israelites were saved.
Foods: No food and drink today.
15 Nisan through 22 Nisan
Yom Tov on first, second, seventh and eighth days.
Pesach or Passover celebrates the Jewish exodus from Egypt when Moses led the Israelites from Egyptian slavery to freedom.
Traditions: The home is cleaned thoroughly to prepare for the festival. The first two evenings of Pesach are known as Seder nights. Traditionally, families get together to eat a meal whilst reading the story of Passover in a book called the Haggadah.
Foods: The Torah prohibits eating Chometz (any leavened food) for the eight days of Pesach. Popular food includes matzo, matzo ball soup, horseradish, eggs, macaroons and borscht.
A memorial day for the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis in the Second World War.
Traditions: Sirens go off across Israel for a two minute silence. Much of the country halts and stands still.
This is a memorial day in respect of all those who lost their lives whilst fighting to establish the State of Israel. It has also become a day to remember all those who were killed in action for the Israeli armed forces.
Traditions: Some people will not play music or watch TV.
This is Israel Independence Day. It was on this Hebrew date in 1948 that Israel officially came into existence.
Traditions: Some synagogues and schools host fairs or concerts and many people fly the Israeli flag.
A minor festival celebrated to mark the end of a plague that killed 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva.
Traditions: It is a popular day for weddings, celebrations and barbecues.
A modern celebration of the liberation of Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War. There are no official traditions or foods associated with this day.
6 Sivan through 7 Sivan
Yom Tov on both days.
Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Traditions: The synagogue and home are decorated with flowers and greenery. People stay up all night on Shavuot to learn Torah. The Book of Ruth is read.
Foods: The Jewish people had just received the Torah and did not know the laws of keeping kosher, so they only ate dairy food. To mark this, people eat cheesecake, cheese blintzes, kugel and ice cream.
Fast of Tammuz
A minor fast day from daybreak to nightfall, marking several tragic events, most notably when Moses broke the first set of the tablets on Mount Sinai.
Foods: No food and drink today.
A fast day to remember many tragedies that occurred on this date, particularly the two times the Temple was destroyed.
Traditions: Many people do not have weddings or celebrations on this day. It is a day of reflection.
Foods: No food or drink from sunset until sunset.