Living in Season
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Update: Michaelmas at the Beach
1) October is stuffed with holidays this year so it took me longer than usual to update it and longer than usual for my hard-working webmistress, Joanna, to set up all the links but it is ready now!
2) I finally took the vacation I've been planning all year pared down a little from the original plan which was to go to Italy for three weeks. Instead Michael and I enjoyed three days on the Long Beach peninsula at the Lighthouse motel, a place I've been going for years with Chester the Dog, who likes to run on the beach and chase little birds through the surf. The weekend we were gone it was sunny in Seattle (which was experiencing what the Italians call "Michael's little summer," meaning a spate of nice weather around Michaelmas (September 29)) while at the coast it was cool and cloudy. But that was fine as my idea of a good vacation is reading in front of a blazing fire this time I was lost in 17th century England, doing research for a novel that takes place during the English Civil War.
Living in Season: the Full Moon Feast of Sukkot
The full moon has always been prime time for celebrations, both because of the brilliance and beauty of moonlight which makes it possible for people to travel and gather at night, and also for that extra burst of exuberant sociable energy that has always been linked with the full moon (hence the word lunatic).
Full moons gather around them an abundance of rituals and this one is no exception. In ancient Greece, it was the culmination of the women's only festival of Thesmophoria (which honored Demeter). On this full moon, the Chinese opened the temple of the God of Wealth. And the ancient Romans made offerings at wells and fountains to the Camanae, oracular water nymphs. But I'm going to focus on one festival which is still going strong: the Jewish harvest celebration of Sukkot, which begins at sundown on October 10th.
I've never celebrated Sukkot, although I've enjoyed the beauty of early autumn evenings in the sukkah constructed by my friend Rose on the deck outside her house in Wallingford (that's Seattle, not England). As a person with many Jewish friends but little practical experience with Jewish ritual, I've always been leary of describing Jewish holidays I haven't experienced. But my current interest in this holiday was piqued by an email from one of my readers, Charity Dell, who has developed a Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles celebration for her pentecostal church in
I've always been an advocate for adapting holiday customs to suit your beliefs and your place on earth. People have been doing this forever. Christians found pagan symbols useful for expressing their beliefs (for instance, Christ as the light in the darkness at winter solstice) and later African slaves, forbidden to worship their deities, found in the images of Catholic saints, equivalents to Erzulie and Ogun whose holidays they could then adopt in the syncretic practices that came to be known as Voodoo. So I appreciated Charity's flexibility, enthusiasm and inclusiveness.
Charity first experienced a church Harvest festival when she was a child attending a black pentecostal church. The church was decorated with autumn produce, like fruits and nuts, while cans and bags of dried beans lined the altar steps. The festival lasted for seven days (just like Sukkot) from Sunday to Sunday during the last week of October, and the services were held at night. The kids marched around the sanctuary with noise-makers and party roll-outs singing "Bringing in the Sheaves" while the ladies waved large handkerchiefs and the men waved Bibles.
Much later, after she'd finished graduate school, Charity started researching Jewish and Christian festivals and realized her little church had been celebrating Sukkot-they just didn't know how to build a sukkah or where to get a lulav. She writes "once a Jewish friend donated a lulav to me after the festival and I saw a 4-year-old boy's eyes light up with delight, I was hooked, and it's been lulavs and etrogs ever since!"
In Charity's church, they usually celebrate Sukkot around October 31st, as a Biblical alternative to Halloween (although I'd argue that it is perfectly Christian to pray for the dead and ask for the blessings of the wise ones (saints and prophets) who have gone before us but that's a topic for Halloween). But in the Jewish festival calendar, where holidays are still tied to the rhythms of the moon, Sukkot is celebrated on the full moon of Tishri (on October 10, this year).
Sukkot has many names including the Festival of Ingathering, (pointing to its old roots as a harvest festival) and the Festival of Booths (as the harvesters lived in huts in the harvest fields).
At Charity's church, the celebration is designed to be include as many people as possible and involve all the senses: taste, touch, sight, sound, smell and movement. People take turns reading from the Bible, performing the hakafot, dancing, etc.
Many Sukkot customs have become beautifully embroidered over time with layers of interpretation and symbolism. Many could be adapted to fit your harvest celebration.
The sukkah, from which the festival takes its name, is a shelter, loosely constructed of branches, open enough so one can see the stars through the roof, decorated with fruits of the harvest. The family takes all of their meals in the Sukkah, and when possible, sleeps there as well, in "the presence ofGod."
The lulav is a blessing branch,usually made from a palm, a willow and a myrtle, all of which have symbolic significance. It is waved in six directions (east, west, north, south, up and down) to acknowledge the divinity in the universe. It is also waved during the psalms of praise.
Hakafot means processing seven times around the sacred space, while waving lulavs and etrogs (a citrus fruit-Charity writes they often substitute lemons, limes and tangerines for the younger children as etrogs are too heavy).
In her celebration, Charity includes lots of singing, dancing (she teaches the hora and people dance to a mixture of klezmer, Messiancic Jewish, black gospel, Latino gospel and Israeli folk music) and feasting. This is a festival of joy, in fact the Talmud says that if you have not experienced it you do not know joy.
Try adapting these ideas for your harvest celebration. Build a sukkah in your back yard. Wave a lulav in six directions at your harvest feast. Write and recite a psalm of praise to the Earth for the blessings you've received. You've already missed a few opportunities for harvest feasting:
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