Sukkot, the Autumn Harvest Festival
Fifteen days after the stocktaking of Rosh Hashanah, and five days after the more rigorous stocktaking of Yom Kippur, falls the weeklong holiday of Sukkot—one of the most joyous and pleasant Jewish holidays. It began this year at sundown on Wednesday, September 18.
In ancient Israel, Sukkot was (along with Passover and Shavuot) one of three pilgrimage festivals in which Jews from throughout the land made their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. In its oldest origins Sukkot was an autumn harvest festival. Exodus 23:16 calls it:
the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.
But in the next biblical book, Leviticus, God confers on Sukkot a more specific significance as he tells (Lev. 23:42-43) the Israelites:
Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths:
That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt….
The reference is to the Israelites’ dwelling in rough, temporary structures during their 40-year desert-trek to the Promised Land. Hence the “booths”—sukkot in Hebrew—that observant Jews (and in Israel, some not-so-observant Jews) build, decorate, eat meals in, and even sleep in during Sukkot.
Hence also the holiday’s English name, the Feast of Tabernacles.
Indeed, some historians make a highly plausible case that the holiday of Thanksgiving has its origins in Sukkot.