The Biblical Festival of Tabernacles, called Sukkot (pronounced “sue-coat” and means “Booths”) runs this year (2015) from sundown September 27 to sundown October 4. The festival reminds us of God’s provision for ancient Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days…You shall dwell in booths for seven days. — Leviticus 23:40, 42a, NKJV
Many traditions surround the building and decorating of the booth, but the heart of it is that the booth must be temporary, lasting only seven days.
“The fruit of beautiful trees” is also translated as the “boughs” or “branches” of “luxurious” or “goodly” trees. Tradition says that the fruit of beautiful trees means citron. Ezra the Scribe defined it as “olive branches” (Nehemiah 8:14-15). Our family usually uses a big, pretty lemon.
Tradition also says to invite people into your booth to share a meal during the holiday. This reminds us that the Israelites were commanded to love foreigners, to welcome them, and to treat them the same as native-born Israelites (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Sukkot is called “The Season of Our Joy,” because it is the only festival during which God specifically commanded rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40).
Our family sometimes goes all out, builds a booth for Sukkot, and observes traditions of the holiday. Sometimes we don’t. As New Testament Christians, we know that we have that freedom (Colossians 2:16).
If you’re not building a booth to celebrate Sukkot, try some of these ideas to keep joy in the season.
- Decorate your dining room or around your kitchen table. Instead of a temporary booth, create a temporary “space” where you can share meals, do crafts, and visit with friends and family.
- Decorate with the Four Species. The Four Species of plants used to celebrate are listed in Leviticus 23:40. These are traditionally interpreted as (1) citron, (2) leaves from a date palm, (3) branches from a myrtle tree, and (4) leafy branches from a willow tree. Depending on where you live, this may or may not be doable without pre-planning.
- Get in touch with plants native to your region. The Four Species are native to Israel, the Promised Land that the ancient Israelites finally called home. Find beautiful plants native to your home, and incorporate them into your celebration. Or at least get out there and enjoy them in nature.
- Watch Ushpizin. It’s the only Sukkot movie that I know of, but it’s loads of fun. The whole movie is available HERE for free on YouTube. It’s in Hebrew with English subtitles.
- Invite people over for a meal. Sukkot includes lots of food, and hosting guests. In fact, American Thanksgiving grew out of a week-long harvest celebration that early Christian Pilgrims picked up from living in a Jewish community. [Read more about that.] So make more than enough food, and invite everyone to the party.
- REJOICE! Sing! Dance! Tell stories! Eat! Laugh! Sometimes praise comes easily and sometimes it’s a sacrifice, but this is the Season of Our Joy, so make it a point to count your blessings and rejoice.
Whatever you choose to do (or not) during Sukkot, remember that life on earth is temporary. Our Promised Land is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. — John 3:16, NKJV
Sukkot includes so many Biblical truths and traditional customs that I can’t get into them all in the space of this blog. What about you? What are you doing this Sukkot? Did you build a sukkah? (booth) Do you have an idea for keeping the joy in the week, with a nod to Sukkot? Do you have a Biblical treasure or fun tradition that you can share?