Sukkot and Ancestor Veneration

Now that we have passed the High Holidays and the Days of Awe, we are embarking upon another 7 day Jewish festival- the harvest festival Sukkot. Sukkot begins on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei- at the time of the full moon. Sukkot is a time to build huts and decorate them with fruits. It’s the time we dwell in these huts to remind ourselves of our agrarian roots and the temporary nature of the dwellings we lived in in the desert after the Exodus. 

Sukkot is so much more than this, however. It is also the time to venerate our ancestors. Just like the Celtic Samhain and the Mexican Day of the Dead, Sukkot is a time to honor and remember our ancestors. Building a sukkah and engaging in everyday activities within it is not enough. We also welcome ushpizin or guests, into our sukkah. Those guests are friends and relatives, but also, our ancestors.

Traditionally speaking we invite one of the seven patriarchs and matriarchs to dine with us each night of the festival. It is often common to also welcome our own ancestors to dwell with us as well. In order to welcome the ancestors it is customary to decorate the walls of the sukkah with photographs and other objects. We also place empty chairs for the spiritual ushpizin to sit in. Special prayers and blessings are recited for welcoming the souls of our departed ushpizin. When we decorate the sukkah and welcome our spiritual guests, we are basically building an ancestor altar (although modern Judaism would not even be aware of this). 

The custom of welcoming guests into our sukkah goes all the way back to our patriarch Abraham. It is well known that he would sit in his tent and welcome guests. His tent is said to have been open on all sides so that he could see travelers from whatever direction they came. When Abraham saw a traveler, that person would become his guest for a welcoming meal and respite from the road. 

Let us be like Abraham and make this Sukkot a lovely time of welcoming our ancestors as guests. They have been travelling a long and hard road after their passing. Let us welcome them into the cool shade of our sukkah for rest and a meal.  

Lammas Traditions

This past week on August 1, we celebrated Lammas or Lughnasadh (luna-sa), the first of several harvest festivals. Although I am Jewish, I come from Scottish heritage, so I do observe Gaelic/Celtic holidays such as this one. There are many ways to celebrate Lughnasadh, as well as many myths and legends that surround it. Like everything else, I pick and choose what I do in my celebrations surrounding the wheel of the year. 

 

As Lughnasadh is a harvest festival, my celebration mainly surrounds the foods that I eat. My Lammas meal is pretty simple. I make sure to eat from the Native American Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash) as well as a loaf of bread- namely Challah. This Jewish braided bread traditionally was just bread and the word challah referred to the pinch of dough that was offered to the Queen of Heaven in the fire. You would literally pinch off a piece of dough and burn it in the fire as an offering to Asherah. However, the term challah has come to mean the loaf itself. I generally don’t make my own challah (although on occasion I do), so at Lughnasadh I make sure to take a pinch of the already baked bread and save it to burn on my altar for the Queen of Heaven. Then, I eat the remainder of the Challah with the Three Sisters.

My Lammas meal is the majority of my observance of this holiday. I also like to have a corn dolly on my altar from now until Mabon. That’s about it, though. I’m rather simple in my observances and that works for me. What are your favorite ways to observe Lughnasadh? 

~Chaya Levana