Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Festival of Booths Part 3

The Hebrew Scriptures command Jews to dwell in temporary shelters, as their ancestors did in the wilderness. The temporary shelter is referred to as a sukkah (which is the singular form of the plural word "sukkot"). This holiday is to be a joyful time. It is great fun for the children. Building the sukkah each year satisfies the common childhood fantasy of building a fort, and dwelling in the sukkah satisfies a child's desire to camp out in the backyard. The commandment to "dwell" in a sukkah can be fulfilled by simply eating all of ones meals there; however, if the weather, climate, and one's health permit, one should spend as much time in the sukkah as possible, including sleeping in it.

You can buy do-it-yourself sukkah from various sources online, or you can build your own. I have a gazebo in my back yard that will be covered and serve as our family's sukkah. It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah. In the northeastern United States, Jews often hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it, because these vegetables are readily available at that time for the American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Sometimes families hang artwork drawn by the children on the walls. Building and decorating a sukkah is a fun family project, much like decorating the tree at Christmas. It is a sad commentary on modern American Christianity, that most Christians have been deprived of the fun of having and decorating a Sukkot.

Some think that the sukkah (and the holiday generally) reminds them of Thanksgiving. It is entirely possible that our American pilgrims, who originated the Thanksgiving holiday, borrowed the idea from Sukkot. The pilgrims were deeply religious people. When they were trying to find a way to express their thanks for their survival and for the harvest, they may have looked to the Bible for an appropriate way of celebrating and found Sukkot. This is not the standard story taught in public schools today (that a Thanksgiving holiday is an English custom that the Pilgrims brought over), but the Sukkot explanation of Thanksgiving fits better with the detailed research of Mayflower historian Caleb Johnson, who believes that the original Thanksgiving was a harvest festival (as is Sukkot), that it was observed in October (as Sukkot usually is), and that Pilgrims would not have celebrated a holiday that was not in the Bible (but Sukkot is in the Bible). It must be remembered that the Pilgrims were deeply religious people who looked to the Scriptures as the standard for their faith and practices. The idea of Thanksgiving being derived from Sukkot is not logically a stretch.

Today, consider making a booth or tent at your home. Decorate it and spend some time in the booth and remember ADONAI's faithfulness. Eat a few meals outside under the booth. When you do, you are obeying ADONAI and having a celebration at the same time.

No comments: