Reasons and Seasons to Celebrate
When are the Jewish holidays?
Seems like a simple enough question – but, actually, it’s not!
You’ll hear people say, “Oh, the holidays are early this year.” Or, “wow, they sure are late.” How can this be? Jewish holidays are based on a lunar (well, mostly) calendar. (To learn more, here’s one helpful resource.)
To make it a tad more confusing, Jewish holidays start at sundown. So if a calendar says that Hanukkah starts on December 20th, it really starts at sundown on December 19th.
Add to that the fact that not all congregations celebrate the same number of days. Reform congregations observe some holidays for a single day vs. two days for Orthodox and Conservative Jews — or seven days vs. eight days for others. So check with your community and use the dates here as guidelines.
Here are 2020 dates for the main holidays, along with a few nuggets of information about each:
Tu B’Shevat. The New Year for Trees.
Sunset, Wednesday, January 28 through nightfall Thursday, January 29
- Celebrates when the sap begins to rise in trees in Israel, like almond trees
- Explore: Eating fruits and nuts that grow in Israel, like grapes, figs, olives, dates, pomegranates and almonds.
Purim. The Feast of Lots.
Sunset, Thursday, February 25 through nightfall, Friday, February 26
- Celebrates the story in the Book of Esther in which Esther risks her life to save the Jews from evil Haman
- Explore: Making costumes to wear at services
Passover. Hebrew name: Pesach.
Sunset, Saturday, March 27 through nightfall, Sunday, April 4
- Holiday of freedom and spring, celebrating the deliverance of our ancestors from slavery in Egypt
- Explore: Holding a Seder where you sing songs and taste foods that symbolize the journey from slavery to freedom
Shavuot. Feast of Weeks.
Sunset, Sunday, May 16 through nightfall, Tuesday, May 18 (one day only for Reform Jews and in Israel)
- Holiday celebrating receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai and the end of the spring harvest season
- Explore: Decorating your home with fresh flowers and greenery
Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year.
Sunset, Monday, September 6 through nightfall, Wednesday, September 8
- Time for serious reflection, as well as big family meals
- Explore: Dipping pieces of round challah and apples into honey, hoping for a sweet year
Yom Kippur. Day of Atonement.
Sunset, Wednesday, September 15 through nightfall, Thursday, September 16
- Considered by many to be most serious day of the Jewish calendar (although Shabbat is the holiest)
- Explore: Watching and listening to the shofar (ram’s horn) blast in synagogue
Sukkot. Feast of Booths.
Sunset, Monday, September 20 through nightfall, Monday, September 27
- Harvest festival during which some families eat meals in their sukkah, an outdoor structure through which you can see the stars
- Explore: Building a sukkah or even just eating outside
Simchat Torah. Rejoicing in the Torah.
Sunset, Tuesday, September 28 through nightfall, Wednesday, September 29
- A festival in the synagogue to celebrate reading the last section of Torah, before starting from the beginning again
- Explore: Joining parades in the synagogue, waving special flags and carrying Torah scrolls
Hanukkah. Festival of Lights.
Sunset, Sunday, November 28 through nightfall, Monday, December 6
- Joyous celebration commemorating religious freedom and the miracle of the oil that should have lasted only done day, but lasted for eight days
- Explore: Lighting a menorah and playing dreidel