What is Rosh Hashanah?
Discover more about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, including how it's celebrated and what to serve for a celebratory feast. Get some inspiration for a sweet New Year.
The Jewish New Year (aka Rosh Hashanah) falls in September/October. It’s the high point of the year, when most Jewish people sit down to feast together. Sweet foods abound.
What is Rosh Hashanah celebrating?
It’s a big birthday bash
Rosh Hashanah (which translates from Hebrew as ‘head of the year’) is a festival celebrating the anniversary of the creation of the world. Literally a birthday party for the planet. Unlike the western new year, which takes place in mid-winter, this happens in the autumn — any time between the fifth of September and fifth of October. The date moves around in the modern calendar from year to year, because Jewish months are based on the lunar year.
It's a double date
The festivities begin at nightfall the day before, when families enjoy a dinner together. They’ll visit the synagogue the next day to pray and hear the sound of the shofar (a musical instrument, traditionally made from a ram’s horn) being blown. They then tuck into lunch with family and friends. In Israel, that’s it, but the Diaspora — Jewish people living around the word — do it all again for a second day, with another dinner and lunch the next day, too.
What to eat for Rosh Hashanah
In years gone by, the head of the year theme extended to the celebratory meal, with some Jewish families serving up a fish – or even a lamb’s – head as part of their feast.
Honey is an important part of celebrations, as it’s said to help bring a sweet year to come. Many families eat apples and/or challah (a traditional Jewish festive bread) dipped in the sticky stuff. It’s also given as gifts and used in savoury dishes, like tzimmes, which is a carrot-based dish sweetened with honey and served as a savoury side.
There’s debate over whether the honey in the biblical reference to the ‘land of milk and honey’ was made by bees or to date honey (or syrup). Jewish vegans now replace bee honey with the date-derived version, also known as silan.
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Apples are another traditional food, symbolic for a sweet new year. Many start their celebrations dipping their Golden Delicious, Pink Lady or other favourite type — in sticky honey.
Challah, the traditional, sweet, plaited bread, is eaten by many families each Friday night, to celebrate the Sabbath. Most of the year, it’s a long loaf, but for Rosh Hashanah, it’s shaped into a round that represents the never-ending circle of life. The loaf is sometimes studded with raisins for extra sweetness.
Good luck foods
Simanim is the name given to a whole list of foods that traditionally bring you luck if you eat them at this time of year.
They include vegetables that grow profusely (symbolising prosperity), like pumpkin, black-eyed beans, leeks, beet leaves and spinach. Dates – said to ward off your enemies – are also a favourite, along with carrots, which symbolise prosperity. The head of a fish or lamb is meant to make us like the head and not the tail of the animal, and keep moving forward. Families from Southern Europe and the Middle East often kick off their celebration meals with a series of these foods, or incorporate them into their menus.
Another tradition is to eat a fruit that you’ve not tasted so far that season, to celebrate a new experience. Pomegranates are traditional as a ‘new fruit’. They are also said to contain 613 seeds — the same as the total number of commandments in the Hebrew Bible or Torah — and symbolise fertility.
No New Year celebration is complete without this essential treat. Ironically, it’s often made without a drop of the golden nectar, tasting more like a ginger cake. It’s loaded with sugar, golden syrup, spices and often coffee or tea. The flavour matures over a few days, so it’s best baked a few days before you want to eat it. It’s an essential part of the holiday.
Try our recipe for Jewish honey cake.
Fast followed by a feast
After all that feasting comes a day of fasting. On Yom Kippur (a week later) no food is consumed for 25 hours — as Jewish people repent their sins of the year before, to go into the next year with a clean slate. There are many family traditions of foods on which to break your fast, but many do so with a slice of honey cake or challah bread and cup of soothing tea.
Recipe inspiration for a tasty new year
Make our honey & cumin chicken and aubergine skewers with pistachio dukkah for a mouthwatering sharing main. Or, serve up a plate of our soy & honey-glazed sticky chicken, with a light herb salad with pomegranates & pistachios.
Pair your delectable mains with a side of honey-roast carrots and griddled aubergine salad with sultanas & pine nuts, for a truly jaw-dropping feast.
Top your spread off with a whole roast bream with olives & potatoes. Roasting the fish with the potatoes and white wine means the flavours mingle and intensify. Or, try our foil-poached salmon with herby mayo for a simple and delicious dish.
For something sweet, give our Jewish honey cake a go, or make a batch of crowd-pleasing honeybread biscuits. Bake up an oaty apple crumble, or cater for everyone and try our plant-based vegan apple crumble.
What's your favourite sweet treat for a celebration? Leave a comment below...