How to Celebrate Rosh Hashanah with Your Family

shofar

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Fall is a time of transition. Summer ends, and cooler weather begins. School starts for our children, and we begin ushering in the holiday season. As such, fall is a time of renewal and reflection for many of us.

Jewish people have their own holiday to celebrate this special and meaningful time: Rosh Hashanah.

In a nutshell, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. It symbolizes a time of restoration and atonement. You don’t have to be an observant Jew to celebrate the holiday; in fact, you don’t have to be Jewish at all to partake in all the traditions the holiday offers.

Maybe you’re looking for new ways to celebrate the holiday as your family grows. Perhaps you’re looking for ideas of how to bring the spirit of the holiday into your home for the first time. Let’s talk about what Rosh Hashanah celebrates, its history and background, and some family-friendly ways of celebrating it.

What Is Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah is the traditional Jewish celebration of the new year. Its name comes from the Hebrew words “Rosh” (head) and “ha-Shanah” (the year)...or "head of the year." The celebration is also known as “Yom Teru’ah,” the “day of horn-blowing” or "feast of trumpets," because it is marked by the blowing of the “shofar,” a musical instrument traditionally made from a ram’s horn.

Rosh Hashanah celebrates the anniversary of God creating human beings. It is the first of the High Holy Days celebrated by Jews in the fall.

When Is It Celebrated?

Rosh Hashanah is on the first day of Tishrei, a month on the Jewish calendar that usually falls in September. The day of Rosh Hashanah can correspond to any date between September 5th and October 5th on the Jewish calendar, depending on the year. It is always 163 days after the first day of Passover and falls on the day of September’s new moon.

All dates on the Jewish calendar begin at sundown, so Rosh Hashanah technically starts the night before its official date. For example, in 2021 Rosh Hashanah falls on September 7, so it officially begins September 6 at sundown and it concludes at nightfall on September 8.

Planning Ahead:

2021September 6 at sundown - September 8 at sundown
2022September 25 at sundown - September 27 at sundown
2023September 15 at sundown - September 17 at sundown
2024October 2 at sundown - October 4 at sundown
2025September 22 at sundown - September 24 at sundown

Why Is It Celebrated?

Rosh Hashanah is a joyous celebration of human beings’ creation and a new year of life. Like other cultures’ new year celebrations, it is a festive occasion for family and friends to gather together and exchange good wishes for the new year.

The holiday involves traditions that both kids and grownups can enjoy together, like the blowing of the shofar. It also involves a plethora of delicious foods, because a Jewish holiday wouldn’t be complete without some yummy dishes to nosh on together with beloved friends and family.

However, Rosh Hashanah is also a time for serious self-reflection. Rosh Hashanah ushers in ten days of repentance, a time for examining one’s deeds and turning away from sins or vices. Ten days after Rosh Hashanah comes Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and praying to atone for one’s sins.

Family-Friendly Ways to Celebrate Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah has been celebrated for thousands of years and is marked by ancient traditions. At the same time, Jewish cultural practices are ever-changing and the way to observe Rosh Hashanah has evolved over the centuries. 

Nowadays, both religious and secular Jews find ways to celebrate the holiday. More and more, non-Jewish people find themselves wanting to integrate some of the traditions of Rosh Hashanah into their lives.

Here are some age-old Rosh Hashanah traditions, with ideas for family activities to honor them.

Greetings, Blessings, and Prayers

The traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah is “L’shanah Tovah,” a Hebrew phrase which means “For a good year” (the equivalent of saying “Happy New Year”). This is the short version of a longer saying: “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem,” meaning “May you and yours be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life] for a good and sweet new year."

There are several ways you can integrate these traditions into activities with your kids. For example, you can make cards to hand out to family members with Rosh Hashanah greetings and prayers on them. Consider using apples sliced in half and dipped in paint as “stamps” to decorate the cards.

You can also have your children call family members who they don’t see often to wish them a happy Rosh Hashanah. Older children might enjoy making a Rosh Hashanah greeting video (or TikTok!) to share with family and friends.

Blowing the Shofar

One of the oldest and most distinctive characteristics of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar, a musical instrument fashioned from the horn of a ram. Jewish law requires a minimum of 30 blasts on the horn, but it is traditional to blow the shofar 100 or 101 times, far more than the minimum requirement.

The shofar makes a loud, raucous noise, and blowing the horn is meant to be a joyful celebration of God. As horns were traditionally blown to announce the coronation of a king, this horn is intended to proclaim God’s role as the King of the Universe.

Kids love blowing the shofar! Consider purchasing a variety of shofars for your children to try, and talk about the varied sounds they make. You can also make a homemade shofar with your child. There are many craft projects online using common household items like empty toilet paper rolls, tape, glue, and paint.

Fruit and Honey

It is traditional on Rosh Hashanah to eat sweet foods, representing the sweetness of a new year. The sweet foods are accompanied by blessings and prayers asking for a year filled with abundance and prosperity.

It is very common to eat apples dipped in honey. The meal may also include honey cake, or a sweet baked apple dish known as “mansanada.” Other sweet fruits such as pomegranates and dates are also traditional.

You can cook, bake, and sample these foods with your children, but you can also engage in "fruit and honey" activities outside the home. Some kid-approved activities include going apple picking, buying several different types of honey and sampling them, and going to a local farm and learn about how honey is made.

Rosh Hashanah Seder

It is well known that Jews have a special dinner called a seder on Passover. However, some communities also have a seder for Rosh Hashanah. This is particularly common among Sephardic communities, Jews originating from the Mediterranean region.

Besides sweet fruit, traditional Rosh Hashanah foods include challah (a braided egg-bread), beets, leeks, beans, pumpkins, and fish.

Kids love baking many of the traditional Rosh Hashanah foods, like challah, which involves braiding the bread and watching it rise. Many kids enjoy getting involved in other dinner preparation activities, like making seating charts and place settings. Your children may also enjoy creating and illustrating New Year’s cards to hand out to guests.

Atonement

For observant Jews, an important part of Rosh Hashanah is the “Tashlich,” an atonement ritual for casting off one’s sins.

In this ceremony, worshipers stand near a body of flowing water (traditionally a river, lake, or sea) and recite a passage from the Torah: “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Some will throw breadcrumbs into the water, and by doing this, they symbolically throw away their sins.

Atonement is a serious matter, but there are some child-friendly ways to get your kids involved. Go on a nature walk, noticing and pointing out the changes that happen during the seasons. You may also consider doing some family journaling with your child, and reflecting together on the past year.

A Word from Verywell

Like other Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity for Jews to reaffirm their shared cultural identity. By gathering together to observe the ancient tradition, Jewish people celebrate their heritage and strengthen their bond as a community.

Anyone—religious, non-religious, Jew or non-Jew—can celebrate Rosh Hashanah. No matter how you celebrate it, the most important thing is that you find your own meaning in what the holiday represents. There’s truly something for everyone in a holiday like Rosh Hashanah, which honors the human spirit’s desire for rebirth, repentance, and togetherness.

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Article Sources
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  1. What Is Rosh Hashanah? Chabad.org. Updated September, 2021.

  2. Rosh Hashana. Time and Date AS. Updated September, 2021.

  3. Melamed E. The laws of blowing the shofar. The Beit-El Yeshiva Center. Published September 6, 2007.

  4. Musleah R. A Sephardic Rosh Hashanah seder. My Jewish Learning. Published September 14, 2009.

  5. Koppelman Ross L. Tashlich, the symbolic casting off of sins. Published May 1, 2009.