The Feast of Tabernacles is an autumn holiday celebrated by Jews and some Christians on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. It's easy to include the whole family in a celebration of this joyful Biblical holiday, which celebrates the harvest and also calls to remembrance the tents or "tabernacles" in which the Hebrews lived in the wilderness after their flight from Egypt.
The Story of Sukkot
The Feast of Tabernacles is also known as Sukkot after "sukkah," the Hebrew word for tabernacle. Older kids will appreciate hearing the words that first incorporated the feast. This account is found in the Bible in the book of Leviticus, chapter 23, verses 33 to 43. For younger ones, a simple narrative may be more suitable. "Night Lights: A Sukkot Story," by Barbara Diamond Goldin; "The Mysterious Guests: A Sukkot Story," by Eric A. Kimmel; and "The House on the Roof: A Sukkot Story," by David A. Adler are three attractively illustrated books that can provide a fun introduction to this holiday.
As your kids get in the spirit of celebration, a few simple art and craft projects may deepen their interest. Since this festival occurs in fall, you can easily adapt Thanksgiving-themed projects: tracing fall leaves, drawing a horn of plenty with various food crops or creating a fall-themed welcome sign. If you plan to build a sukkah, these illustrations can be used to decorate it. Make other decorations for the sukkah such as a reflective mobile constructed from old CDs; colorful chains of fuzzy pipe stems; paper lanterns; or flowers cut out of self-adhesive craft foam, ready to stick on the sukkah walls.
Constructing a Sukkah
A big part of the fun of Sukkot is that it is celebrated outdoors. Traditionally, those celebrating the festival actually live in the sukkah for a week. Even if you're not planning to spend your nights outside, building a sukkah in the backyard and eating meals in it will appeal to kids of all ages. The sukkah walls can be made of any material, but tradition dictates that the roof be made of unfinished plant material: tree branches, reeds, corn stalks, bamboo or unfinished planks. Inventive young minds will find infinite variations for building a temporary structure within these guidelines. Once it is built, you can use the crafts projects mentioned above to make your sukkah beautiful inside and out.
Sharing Meals in the Sukkah
In traditional Jewish circles, all meals are eaten in the sukkah during the festival. Whether you sit down in the sukkah for all meals or just plan one dinner outside, kids will be thrilled at the prospect of helping prepare the picnic feast. Keeping in mind the harvest celebration aspect of Sukkot, kids may enjoy preparing locally grown and harvested vegetables and fruits. Regular autumn favorites like fresh applesauce, apple pie, pumpkin muffins, tomato soup, zucchini casserole and even baked potatoes will taste better in the fresh air of the sukkah, while reminding kids and adults of the joyful season of plenty they are celebrating.