Shavuot Activities and Celebrations

Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the giving of Ten Commandments or the Aseret ha-D'varim, through Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai. The holiday commences on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. It marks a culmination of a seven week journey. The beginning of the journey is Passover which marks the liberation of the slaves in Egypt. The journey ends with Shavuot, which celebrates the freedom along with revelation and acceptance of the holy Torah. The Hebrew meaning of Shavuot is weeks, and the bible refers to it as 'Festival of weeks'. According to the Jewish tradition, the festival is celebrated for one day in the Land of Israel and two days outside it.

In the bible, it is also called the 'festival of reaping' and ' the day of first fruit' as it is also observed as a grain harvest festival. Shavuot was distinguished in olden times by bringing crop offering in temples of Jerusalem, as a token of thanksgiving. This crop offering is called the Bikkurim (First Fruits).  Bikkurim were brought from seven specialty of the Land of Israel; wheat, grapes, barley, fig, pomegranate, dates and olives. Each farmer presents his Bikkurim to the Jewish priest or kohen and the ceremony follows.

There are no unique set of laws which set aside Shavuot from other holidays. Just like all other holidays, people stay away from work, eat the special meal and attend the special prayer service at temple. There are no distinct activities or feast which is specially observed on this festival. Most of the customs and tradition related to Shavuot celebration arose from legends and stories of the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

According to a story in Midrash, the people of Israel overslept on the Matan Torah on the day of giving of Torah and Moses himself had to wake them up as God was waiting for them at the mountain. In order to rectify this, on the eve of Shavuot, the Jews hold a night long vigil. They do not sleep the whole night from dusk to dawn and keep themselves busy by reading the holy Torah and Talmud. To keep the custom of all night Torah study, a digest of reading called the 'Tikkun Leil Shavuot' or 'Rectification of the Shavuot night' have been arranged by the Arizal, Isaac Luria a leading kabbalist. The verses from prophet, Torah and Talmud are included the Tikkum Leil Shavuot.

It is believed that Mount Sinai suddenly bloomed with greenery and flowers in the happiness of giving Torah, to commemorate this event the Jews decorate their home and room of prayer (sangogue) with flowers and branches. The torah scrolls in some temples are adorned with flowers, mostly with rose garlands. The Jews also lights candles just after the sunset on the Shavuot eve to decorate their home and temple.

On the first day of Shavuot morning is observed by the Jews by reading a liturgical poem praising the greatness of God. This ninety lined Hebrew poem called the Akdamut is read in the sangogue and after that the Torah is read. It is also customary to read the book of Ruth as the scene of harvest of wheat and barley and the desire of Ruth to accept Judaism described in the book are in correspondence with the Shavuot festival.

On the Shavuot, the Jews eat dairy products at least once in the day; there is a tradition of eating cheesecake after dusk Torah advices the Jews to eat the meat of ritually slaughtered animals only. It is believed that on the day of Giving of Torah, the Israelis did not have any meat preparation that met this requirement. Nor could they slaughter another animal on the day as it was Sabbath, the day when slaughtering was forbidden. So the people were forced to eat simple diary product for the rest of the day. The Jews follow this tradition by eating dairy products and cheese cake on the day.

The Shavuot celebration does not provide much an activity for the children unlike other holidays which call for children's involvement.. Children can participate in decorating the house and sangogue with locally available flowers and leaves and the reason behind this practice can be made clear to them through stories and plays. The practice of Bikkurim and the crops offering at the temple can be staged by the children to make them understand it better. Games, crafts and quiz on the Shavuot theme can help to educate the children about the giving of torah and the other incidents that took place on the day. 

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