According to the Hebrew month of Tishrei, Sukkot is the third holiday and also one of the most talked about and popular Jewish holidays. Sukkot is a part of three pilgrimages in which the entire Jewish people came to Jerusalem in the olden period, when the Holy Temple was standing there, and offered cereals and animal sacrifices. It is a specifically joyous holiday in which the fusion of religious and agricultural elements are observed.
Sukkot originates in the Torah, and celebrates the construction of booths in which the Jews lived in the desert after obtaining freedom from the slavery of Egyptians. A sukka is a superficial and temporary house, generally manifesting wooden or cloth walls on three of its four sides and a temporary roof made of tree branches through which the sky can be seen.
Sukkot is also called as the Harvest holiday, as it falls in the autumn season, after the summer harvest and prior to the insemination of winter crops. A primary theme in the holiday prayers is rain - the farmers thank God for this year’s harvest and pray for rain for the next year.
Sukkot celebration goes on for seven days which starts from 15 to 21st of the Tishrei – the Hebrew month (which falls generally in mid October). The first day and final days are specifically full of fervor. The initial day is a pious day, a rest day, when no work is permitted, similar to Shabbat, so almost all the businesses are closed; the eighth day from the start of Sukkot is called Shemini Atseret, which is again a separate holiday. The rest of the days, that is the 2-14 days are identical to weekdays.
The origin of Sukkot goes back to the period of ancient Israel when Jews would construct huts near the edges of their agricultural lands in the season of harvest. This house was called a "sukkah" and "sukkot" is the plural form of this Hebrew terminology. These houses not only offered shade and shelter but also allowed the workers to spent most of their time in the fields, harvesting their food faster as a result.
Sukkot is also about the type of life Jewish people witnessed while roaming around in the desert for as long as 40 years. As they traveled from one place to another they created tents or booths - sukkot, that provided them temporary living places in the desert.
There are three significant traditions associated with Sukkot:
At the outset of sukkot traditions Jews build a sukkah. In earlier times Jews would reside in the sukkot and eat all the meals inside them. Now-a-days people must erect a sukkah in their backyards or enable their synagogue build one for the community.
Few people stay in the sukkah now-a-days, but eating at least one meal inside it is a famous ritual that is observed even today. Before starting the meal, a particular blessing is recited, which is a kind of blessing seeked from the Almighty. If it is raining, then the instruction of eating in the sukkah can be postponed until the weather is more feasible; fortunately, Sukkot goes for eight days long!
Since Sukkot traditions and themes commemorate the harvest in the soil of Israel, another custom on Sukkot tradition involves waving the etrong and lulav. The lulav and etrog together manifests the Four Species. The etrog is a type of citron (lemon like fruit), while the lulav is made of three myrtle twigs, two willow twigs and a palm offshoot. As the palm twig is the longest compared to other branches, the willow and myrtle are wrapped around it. During Sukkot, the etrog and lulav are waved while chanting special blessings. They are waved in all the four directions.
The etrog and lulav are also considered in the synagogue service. On each morning of Sukkot people will take the etrog and lulav around the sanctuary, meanwhile reciting prayers. On day seventh of Sukkot which is also popular as Hoshana Rabbah, the Torah is discarded from the Ark and congregants take the circle of the synagogue for seven times holding the etrog and lulav.
The last day of Sukkot is called Shmeni Atzeret. On this day, a rain prayer is recited, manifesting how the Jewish holidays are attuned with the seasons of Israel, which starts on this day.
Among religious celebrations a unique aspect of Sukkot traditions and facts is the quest for the perfect etrog. Some people spends as much as $100 for the appropriate etrog; on the weekend, prior to the Sukkot outdoor markets, selling of etrogim and lulavim shoots up in religious neighborhoods, like Manhattan's Lower East Side.