Rosh Hashanah - A New Year's Day Celebration
My family and I have started a great tradition in honour of the Jewish New Year, known in Hebrew as Rosh Hashanah. It is so much fun that I'd like to share the details of our holiday activities so that maybe you can enjoy the start of the High Holy Days as much as we do.
We decided several years ago to celebrate Rosh Hashanah like we would New Year's Eve on December 31st. We celebrate with a traditional dinner on the first day of Rosh Hashanah but on the second day we invite family and friends over to ring in the New Year with sweet foods and party activities.
To begin, a buffet table is set with traditional Jewish foods and some non-traditional favourites. At the centre of the table we place several round challahs (round to symbolize a wish that the coming year will roll around peacefully without unhappiness). There is honey for dipping and apple butter for spreading on the challah, but I personally like it plain. There is a round honey cake and a big bowl of honeydew melon. A large pan of noodle kugel that is made with cinnamon and apples is always the first to disappear. There is a large platter of chicken skewers with different dipping sauces and carrots with a brown sugar and butter glaze. My mother always makes a delicious dish of cooked shrimp in a sweet sauce that she refuses to tell anyone the ingredients of.
This is our usual menu every year, but you can create your own. Just think about keeping it "sweet" with holiday recipes that you have in your family, or that you can create by modifying family favourites.
When everyone has finished eating we really get the party started with some holiday crafts that the adults enjoy as much as the kids. First up is crown making. Crowns are perfect because their shape can be symbolic of a "whole" new year filled with prosperity. As is the tradition on New Year's Eve across the globe, people wear festive hats to celebrate the New Year.
Plain gold crowns can usually be purchased at craft shops. They come flat so that they can be easily decorated. I supply bright coloured gems to glue onto the crowns, paint with sparkles for writing on the crowns, and lots of stickers for the younger children to stick on them. They are easily clasped together and everyone looks like royalty for the rest of the evening.
Next, we play a party game that takes everyone's breath away. Since it is traditional to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, I thought it would be fun to have a competition to see who could blow the longest. It is difficult to blow an actual shofar and with so many kids a part of our family, I put a little twist on it. I buy lots of noisemakers, the kind that you blow into and they roll out. The kids and adults compete separately in groups of four. When I say go, each person blows the noisemaker and holds it for as long as they can. It's easy to guess the winner because the paper will recoil when blowing slows down. The winner moves on to the next round. The final winners receive award certificates that say "Shofar, So Good!" (I also throw in a bag of noisemakers so they can practice for next year.)
The kids enjoy a little hands on painting while we set the buffet table with dessert. I cut apples in half and set out small paper plates with different coloured paints on them. The kids dip the apple into the paint and then push them down on white paper to make a picture. Think of sponge painting with apples. The imprint the apple makes is heart shaped and the pictures are great gifts to take home.
Dessert is served while the kids finish their paintings. We have no set traditions here, so dessert is usually an assortment of cookies, cakes, pastries and fresh fruit.
The final holiday activity is the most meaningful. Everyone receives paper and pen and is asked to write down a wish for the coming year. It can be as simple as a wish to lose a few kilos or a more detailed account of a personal or professional goal. Parents help small children with their wishes and when everyone's finished writing, they put their wish in an envelope, write their name on the outside and seal it. I collect all the envelopes and save them until the next year when I read them aloud.
Now everyone gathers together and I read the wishes from the previous year. (If someone isn't there I save it for them.) It is great fun listening to what everyone wrote and seeing if indeed their wish came true. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. We laugh, cheer and applaud those that have occurred. It's a great way to start the year off with hope.
We make 9:00 p.m. the magic number and count down just like we do on the last day of December. Everyone yells Happy New Year and shouts of joy fill the house. Rosh Hashanah is past and the Jewish High Holy Days will continue to be observed for nine more days, ending with more celebration. But that's another story.