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How is Rosh Hashanah celebrated?

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Quick Answer

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with a sounding of the ram's horns, festive meals, candlelight rituals, Tashlich, synagogue services and abstaining from creative work. These traditions and customs honor the start of the Jewish New Year.

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Full Answer

In the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah marks the first and second days of the Jewish New Year. Reform Jews typically celebrate one day of Rosh Hashanah while Conservative and Orthodox Jews celebrate the holiday in two days. Essentially, Rosh Hashanah is the equivalent of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in the in most areas around the world. Rosh Hashanah, in celebration of the new year, is a time of fun and festivities with food, music and dance. It is also a deeply religious occasion that is marked by events symbolizing the importance of happiness and the virtue of humility. Like many holidays, Rosh Hashanah is marked by many traditions and customs. The sounding of the shofar, or the bull's horn, is a classic symbol of this Jewish holiday. Jews also congregate around family at this time, and they mark the start of the New Year with a large feast. Foods consumed include challah, which is a sweet bread that represents the circle of life, and other sweet foods like kiddush, which is poured over wine or grape juice, apples - which are dipped in honey on the first night, pomegranates, fish heads and other foods that traditionally welcome the first night of the new year and a new type of fruit, which is traditionally served on the second night of Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah Traditions
In addition to food and family, the Rosh Hashanah celebration contains a deep-rooted religious component. As with most religious holidays, some Jews honor the religious traditions of Rosh Hashanah more than others. For many believers, preparation for Rosh Hashanah begins well in advance of the holiday itself. It is not uncommon for preparations to start a month in advance. The month leading up to Rosh Hashanah is called Elul. Elul is also a preparatory time for Yom Kippur, which is another major Jewish holiday. During the month of Elul, some congregations listen to the sounding of the horn at the start of every service. In doing so, they remember the religious significance of the upcoming season. Another important component of the religious Rosh Hashanah celebration is Tashlich. During this ceremony, Jews visit a body of running water, such as a stream or river. They toss bread into the running water, which symbolizes a casting away of their sins. In performing this act, Jews wash away their sins, right their wrongs, reflect on their actions and prepare for a new start in the new year.

Rosh Hashanah Prayers
In addition to religion, forgiveness is an important theme in Rosh Hashanah. During the High Holidays, which includes Rosh Hashanah, Jews recite a series of prayers called Selichot. Selichot, in Hebrew, means "forgiveness." Selichot recitations begin late at night on the Saturday preceding the start of Rosh Hashanah. Every morning between the start of the New Year and Yom Kippur, Jews recite Selichot prayers. Reform congregations typically observe Selichot on the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah begins. They dedicate 10 days as time for self-examination and reflection. In addition to spending time at the church, Jewish families spend time together at Rosh Hashanah. The holiday usually begins with a family dinner, which is followed by attending church services on the first night of Rosh Hashanah and again the next day.

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