How to Celebrate Sukkot With Your Family

Young Jewish girl blessing on the four species (etrog,lulav ,hadass,aravah) in a sukkah or succah during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot.

Rafael Ben-Ari/Getty Images

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There is so much to love about fall, and many fantastic holidays to go along with it. Jewish people often usher in the fall season with a holiday called Sukkot, which is both a holiday to celebrate the fall harvest, and an occasion to recognize the 40-year period in which Jews traveled through the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt.

Sukkot is a holiday that can be enjoyed by kids and grownups alike, and is a wonderful way to mark the arrival of fall as well as learn more about the history and traditions of Jewish people. Whether you’ve been celebrating Sukkot for years, or are looking to celebrate it for the first time, we’ve gathered some fresh and fun ideas for how to enjoy the holiday as a family.

What Is Sukkot?

Sukkot, sometimes referred to in Hebrew as “chag ha-asif” (“the harvest festival”), is a Jewish holiday celebrated in the fall. The name “Sukkot” comes from the Hebrew word “sukkah,” meaning “hut.”

During Sukkot, Jews traditionally build temporary huts or “sukkot” and spend as much time as possible beneath them for a period of seven days. This is done to commemorate the ancient Israelites’ 40-year odyssey through the desert after their escape from Egypt.

When Is Sukkot Celebrated?

The week-long festival of Sukkot starts five days after Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. On the Hebrew calendar, it starts on the 15th day of Tishrei, which can fall in either September or October. In 2022, Sukkot starts at sunset on October 9, and ends one week later, on October 16.

Why Is Sukkot Celebrated?

One purpose of Sukkot is to pay tribute to the ancient Hebrews’ years of wandering. The temporary huts built for Sukkot are thought to be similar to the dwellings used by the Hebrews as they journeyed through the desert. In modern times, some people view Sukkot as a week-long opportunity to get outside and live more simply, free themselves from material possessions, and appreciate what is most important in life.

Family-Friendly Ways to Celebrate Sukkot

Like many religious holidays, Sukkot involves ancient traditions. But there are several ways you and your family can adapt these traditions and make them your own.

Building the Sukkah

The best-known and most distinctive signs of Sukkot are the “sukkot” themselves: the temporary huts in which Jews traditionally take all their meals during the seven-day period. You can buy a prefab sukkah, or a sukkah you can assemble from a kit. But for many families, building it yourself is part of the joy of Sukkot.

You can build your sukkah in any outdoor space you have access to: your backyard, the front lawn, or even on a rooftop! However, the sukkah should be in a place where the sky is visible, not underneath an overhanging tree, roof, or canopy.

Your sukkah’s roof, or covering, should be made of natural, unfinished materials such as reeds, branches, or bamboo. The idea is for the roof to provide some shade, but not to block out the sky entirely. You want to be able to see the stars when you’re in the sukkah at night.

Some Jewish communities prefer not to decorate the sukkah, believing that the plain, unadorned sukkah is the best way to fulfill the religious duty. For others, decorating the sukkah is a major part of the fun. If this is your preference, you can hang fresh fruit in the sukkah to celebrate the harvest season, or let your children decorate it with their crafts.

Eating in the Sukkah

During the week of Sukkot, the sukkah becomes your unofficial home, but you don’t need to sleep in it. It is fine to sleep in your usual residence, and simply visit the sukkah during the day. However, it is definitely traditional to eat there.

The first evening of Sukkot, known as a Yom Tov (“Good Day”), is traditionally a feast night. It is observed like a Friday night Shabbat dinner, with candle lighting and blessings for the wine and the food. Another Yom Tov is observed on the eighth night, when Sukkot ends. Some communities also hold a Yom Tov feast on the second night of Sukkot.

It is considered mandatory to eat at least one piece of bread in the sukkah. Other than that, there are no particular foods that must be eaten during Sukkot, but families tend to eat traditional Jewish foods like challah dipped in honey, matzo ball soup, and kreplach. You can have your kids help cook these foods for some extra family fun.

Since Sukkot is a harvest festival, your family can also consider fall-themed offerings like fresh-picked apples or seasonal produce from your local farmer’s market.

Shaking the Lulav and Etrog

During the temple services for Sukkot, it is traditional to wave a bundle of plants known as the lulav and etrog. These are actually four plants bound together in this bundle–the lulav (a palm frond), hadassim (myrtle branches), aravot (willow branches), and the etrog, which is a citrus fruit. But these “arba minim” (“four kinds”) are known collectively as lulav and etrog.

Many families buy the lulav and etrog from their synagogue or rabbi, since some of these may be hard to find. However, if these plants can be found in your area, go on an adventure to gather branches of myrtle and willow!

The purpose of the lulav and etrog is to appreciate the gift of nature by gathering various plants you are grateful for. By binding them together and waving them during the service, observant Jews give thanks to the God who gave the gift of these plants.

Singing and Rejoicing

Sukkot is not a solemn observance, but a joyous occasion.

It is referred to as “z’man simchateinu” (“the time of our joy”), and even the Bible states that Sukkot should be a time for rejoicing.

Outdoor gatherings in and around the sukkah can go until late at night. Spend time outside with your family, singing and dancing under the stars. This can be an opportunity to let your kiddos stay up later than usual and enjoy the magic of a crisp fall evening.

Welcoming Guests

A time for joy and celebration is best shared with family and friends. Over the course of the seven days, make time to visit the huts of your friends and neighbors, and invite them to yours. Besides being a fun activity, this is an instance of “hakhnasat orekhim,” a Hebrew phrase meaning “hospitality to guests.”

The traditional celebration of Sukkot also involves some symbolic guests. For the seven nights of the holiday, seven biblical figures are invited to join the families in the sukkah. One of these “ushpizin” (guests) is honored on each of the seven nights.

In modern times, some families have chosen to honor some additional “ushpizin.” Since the seven traditional figures are all men, many families have made a point of also honoring great biblical women such as Sarah, Rebecca, and Esther. Your family can also take a moment to think of your own “ushpizin.” Anyone you consider admirable and inspirational can be included as an honorary guest in your sukkah.

A Word From Verywell

Sukkot is one of the most fun and exciting Jewish holidays for kids, and is a great opportunity to get everyone in the family involved. It’s also a special chance to appreciate the wonders of the fall season, whether you are religious or not. However you choose to celebrate Sukkot, remember that the most important aspect of the holiday is being together with your family, enjoying time-honored traditions, and starting brand new traditions that your kids will remember for a lifetime.

11 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.