In Israel, we celebrate many holidays throughout the year. Not only Jewish but also Christian, Muslim, and public holidays, all changing the atmosphere in the country for a day or two and sometimes even more. In Israel, holidays are all about people, families, and food. We Israelis usually use the holidays to get together with our families and, if possible, go out to see the beautiful sites of our country. So… what are the main holidays in Israel?
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Tips for planning your trip to Israel during the holidays
If you’re planning to travel to Israel during the holidays, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Book your accommodation well in advance. This is especially relevant for the Jewish and Christian holidays. There are a lot of people traveling during the holidays, so accommodations fill up fast. If you’re coming during a holiday, make sure to book at least two months in advance, and preferably earlier. You can check for hotel prices on Trivago.
- Check if there’s going to be public transportation. On some of the Jewish holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Shavuot, and part of Sukkot and Passover, there’s no public transportation. So, if you’re counting on public transport to get around, plan for alternative transportation options.
- Start your days as early as possible. Most Jewish holidays are times when families get together and travel around the country. So, you can expect large crowds. To try and overcome this, you should plan to start your days as early as possible and be first in line at national parks, museums, and any other attraction.
- Check if you need to reserve a slot for your attractions. Some attractions, such as nature parks, national parks, and some museums, require a time slot to enter. On holidays, the time slots could get filled fast. So, make sure to purchase tickets as early as possible, to make sure you’ll have space.
I’ll start with what I know best – the Jewish holidays. Jewish holidays are celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, a solar calendar, which most of us know and use on a daily basis, the Hebrew calendar is based on both the moon and the sun. An intercalary month is added to the calendar to make sure that the Jewish holidays will be celebrated in the same season every year. Each holiday has a connection to a specific season and cannot be celebrated out of context. They are celebrated yearly on the same Hebrew date but not the same Gregorian date. The Hebrew date begins every day at sunset. In other words, the holidays begin at sunset. For example, if you see that Rosh Hashana begins on the 20th of September, it means that the holiday will only start in the evening of that day.
And now, here are the main Jewish holidays and how to spend them during travel:
Rosh Hashanah in Israel
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. It is celebrated every year on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. If we look at the seasons, it takes place when summer ends. Usually, that falls in September or early October. During the holiday, we eat apples with honey so that the upcoming year will be sweet. It’s also the season of the pomegranates, which symbolize prosperity.
Rosh Hashana lasts two days, during which there is no public transportation in Israel. In some places, you might be able to get a shared taxi (sherut) or use a private bus line to get around places. But I recommend staying somewhere where you won’t need to use transportation during the holiday.
Read more >> 5 Ways to Celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Israel.
Yom Kippur in Israel
This is the holiest of the Jewish holidays and is known as the “day of atonement.” Yom Kippur takes place every year on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, about a week after Rosh Hashana. Usually, it falls in September or October.
During the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Kippur, we believe that God writes down your fate for the upcoming year. On Yom Kippur, he seals his decision. During those ten days, the person can pray and try to change God’s mind. People can change their behavior and seek forgiveness for their actions during the last year.
“Yom” means “day,” and “Kippur” comes from the root meaning “to atone.” On Yom Kippur, most Jewish people fast for 25 hours, don’t use electronic devices, and don’t drive or ride transportation. That is their way to disconnect from everyday life, look into themselves, and examine their behavior throughout the passing year. However, not all Jewish people act alike, so some do eat during the holiday, use their electronic devices, and such. Most won’t use their cars to respect others.
During Yom Kippur, you can expect to see many people in the streets, especially children, walking on foot or riding bikes. You might see cars driving here and there in cities with a mixed population. Some Jewish people might not like that other people are driving on this holy day, and so you might hear them or see them get upset. If you’re traveling on Yom Kippur, don’t count on public transportation at all because it doesn’t operate on this holy day.
Read more >> All about Yom Kippur in Israel.
Sukkot in Israel
This is a biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. Usually, the holiday falls at the end of September or in October.
When the Holy Temple was still standing, Sukkot was one of the three pilgrimage festivals. During these festivals, the Jewish people had to perform a pilgrimage to the Temple. Nowadays, it is still one of the main holidays in Israel. It lasts seven days, and we celebrate it by building a Sukkah. “Sukkah” is the name of the temporary dwelling in which the farmers dwelled during the harvesting season back in the biblical days. It is a kind of booth that is covered by leaves or wood. If you visit Israel on Sukkot, you will probably see many Sukkah structures on the streets, inside people’s yards, and in public squares.
On the first day of Sukkot, there is no public transportation in Israel. But afterward, during the five days of “Chol Hamoed,” there is public transportation like any other day.
At the end of the holiday, there’s another holiday called “Simchat Torah,” during which there is no public transportation.
Read more >> 5 Ways to Celebrate Sukkot in Israel.
Chanukah in Israel
This holiday is meant to commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Chanukah takes place on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and is celebrated for 8 nights and days. It is usually celebrated at the beginning of the winter, in December. Every evening, family and friends gather to sing and light another candle of the Chanukkiah (small menorah). On the last day of Chanukah, we light 8 candles, not including the Shamash, which is the candle used to light the others.
During the holiday, people eat foods fried or baked in oil to commemorate the miracle of the oil, which was able to keep the Holy Temple’s Menorah alight for 8 days. In bakeries, you’ll find jam-filled doughnuts called “suf-ga-nee-ah,” You might also see many kids playing with dreidels, which have Hebrew letters printed on every side of the dreidel. The letters are the first letters of the words that make up the sentence: “A great miracle happened here.” Outside of Israel, you’ll find dreidels saying: “A great miracle happened there.”
There is no public transportation limitation on Chanukah because it isn’t a holiday from the Torah. So, you can travel freely.
Read more >> 5 Ways to Celebrate Chanukah in Israel.
Purim in Israel
This fun holiday commemorates the saving of the Jews from evil Haman, who planned to kill all Jews in ancient Persia. The story of Haman and the Jews can be found in the Biblical Book of Esther. The Jews were very happy when Haman was caught and sentenced to death. They celebrated with a great feast, drank a lot of wine, and had a party. So, that’s also what we Jews do to celebrate Purim in Israel. We dress up in funny costumes and get drunk. There is also a tradition of giving sweets to each other on Purim. The holiday is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. In cities with ancient walls (like Jerusalem), it is celebrated on the 15th day. Usually, this holiday happens in March.
You might be able to find a wild party to join on Purim while in Israel. You will surely see people with costumes on the streets, even a few days before Purim starts. In bakeries, you’ll find a lot of “Haman Ears” (oznei Haman), a triangular-shaped pastry filled with chocolate or poppy seeds.
Public transportation operates on Purim because it isn’t a holiday from the Torah.
Read more >> 5 Ways to Celebrate Purim in Israel.
Pesach (Passover) in Israel
Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals and one of the main holidays in Israel. On this holiday, we celebrate how God freed the Hebrew people from slavery in ancient Egypt. The holiday begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan and lasts seven days. Usually, it falls at the end of March or in April. It is called “Pesach” because in Hebrew, “Pesach” means “passed over”. God passed over the houses of the Jews during the final of the Ten Plagues because they painted lamb blood over their doorposts.
On the holiday eve (called “Leil Ha-Seder”), family and friends gather and tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, as described in the Bible. During the reading, there are songs, prayers, and moments when everyone needs to eat something from the table. At some point, there is a feast, which includes many types of food.
During the seven days of Pesach, Jewish people don’t eat bread or anything made from chametz, which is leavened foods made from specific grains. Instead of bread, we eat Matzah, unleavened bread made from flour and water. Some places also serve special bread that is not made from potato flour. You might be able to find bread in areas that aren’t all Jewish.
On the first day of Pesach, there’s no public transportation, but afterward, there will be limited transportation. Many people travel with their families on Passover, so get ready for a lot of crowds.
Read more >> 5 Ways to Celebrate Passover in Israel.
Shavuot in Israel
The last of the three pilgrimage festivals, this holiday is all about cheese products and agricultural products. Shavuot is celebrated on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan and is one day long. It usually falls in May or June. It marks the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel. Also, it commemorates the day when GOD gave us the Torah. That is why many Jewish people spend time on Shavuot to read the Torah.
There is also a tradition of throwing water at each other during Shavuot. So, don’t be surprised if you see people spraying water on other people on the street.
There is no public transportation during Shavuot.
Read more >> 5 Ways to Celebrate Shavuot in Israel.
Lag BaOmer in Israel
If you see children walking around with hands and carts full of wood, it’s probably because you’re close to Lag BaOmer. This holiday is celebrated every year on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. It usually falls in May.
On Lag BaOmer, people light bonfires all around the country to mark the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Bar Yochai was a Jewish sage who is attributed with the writing of the Zohar, the chief work of Kabbalah. Also, he is traditionally connected to light and fire.
Because of all the smoke, this isn’t a great day for the environment. But at least we have fun around the bonfire, with marshmallows and everything. There’s also public transportation, so that’s great. And in recent years, there are fewer and fewer bonfires.
Shabbat in Israel
It always arrives at the end of each week, on Saturday, but some people also consider the Shabbat as a holiday. Shabbat is a time to rest and be with the family. There’s no public transportation in most cities, and most of the shops, restaurants, and attractions are closed.
Read more >>
Unlike the Hebrew calendar, the Muslim calendar, which is based on the moon, does not add an intercalary month. This means that the holidays aren’t celebrated during the same season every year. Their dates change each year.
Ramadan in Israel
Ramadan is a whole month during which Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which makes it a very holy month for Muslims. According to the Muslim belief, this month was the month during which Prophet Mohammed received the first revelations of the Quran.
Aside from not eating, during Ramadan, Muslims need to refrain from drinking, smoking, insulting, cursing, and engaging in sexual relations. The Muslims work as usual during Ramadan, so you won’t see anything too unusual. You will see a lot of decorations in Muslim-populated areas, such as the Muslim Quarter in the Old City and Muslim towns. You will also see food stalls or celebrations near sunset when the Muslims sit together to break the fast of each day.
The end of Ramadan is celebrated by Eid al-Fitr, “the breaking of the fasting.” The Eid al-Fitr holiday is celebrated for three days. During those days, most Muslims won’t work, so some of the Muslim shops or facilities might be closed.
Eid al-Adha in Israel
This is the second of the two Muslim holidays, along with Eid al-Fitr. The holiday lasts four days and is meant to honor the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. During the holiday, the Muslims butcher lambs to commemorate the lamb given by God. Also, many Muslims do the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, during this time. This is a very holy holiday for Muslims, so some might not open their stores on this holiday.
The Christian holidays are less prominent in Israel because of the small Christian community compared to other communities in the country. The most prominent Christian holiday in Israel is Christmas. You’ll be able to spot some Christmas lights, decorations, and trees, especially in large cities and in Christian-populated areas such as the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Haifa, and smaller Christian towns.
Read more >> Christmas in Israel: The Top Places to Celebrate.
In general, there are usually more Christian pilgrims at the holy sites during the Christian holidays, especially in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. So, if you would like to visit the Christian sites with less crowds, visiting outside the Christian holidays might be better.
Public holidays in Israel
Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)
The national memorial day for the Holocaust victims takes place on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, around April-May. On this day, we remember approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust by the Nazis and their allies. On the morning of the memorial day, usually at 10 AM, there is a two-minute-long siren. When the siren starts, people stop whatever they are doing and stand in silence to respect the Holocaust victims.
Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day)
On this day, we remember the many fallen soldiers, who protected our country, and the civilian victims of terrorism. It takes place a day before Independence Day, on the fourth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, usually in May. On the eve before Memorial Day, there is a siren that goes on for one minute. A day afterward, in the morning, another siren goes on for two minutes.
Most stores and attractions close early on Yom HaZikaron, to let people get ready for the memorial ceremonies which take place almost in every city and town.
Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day)
After remembering our soldiers who fell for our country, we celebrate our independence – what they were fighting for! On the eve of Independence Day, there’s a grand ceremony on Mount Herzl, with songs, fireworks, and the lighting of the 12 torches. On the day afterward, we usually go out to the parks and enjoy some barbecue together.
For more about Independence and Memorial Day, read my post – From Down Below: 69 Years of Independence.
Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day)
This day is meant to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six-Day War in 1967. Following this war, Israel gained back control over the Old City after it was captured by Jordanian forces during the Independence War. The day is celebrated on the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, usually in May. There are many ceremonies in Jerusalem, and many Jewish people celebrate in the streets of the Old City. It is a day that not all people in Israel like.
Israelis love to celebrate, and there are many holidays in Israel throughout the year! If you’re planning a trip to Israel, it’s best to check if there is any Jewish, Muslim, or Christian holiday on your travel dates so you can be prepared. Wishing you a fun and wonderful trip in Israel!
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