Sukkot can feel like the distant, somewhat forgotten sibling of the High Holiday season—tagging behind and seemingly overshadowed by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We’ve celebrated the new year, we’ve fasted, and by the time Sukkot comes around, it doesn’t always register that we have another holiday, let alone one that’s a week long. And for those of us in colder climates, building an outdoor habitation during the late fall is low on our list of enjoyable experiences.
But Sukkot reminds us of more than our ancestors’ wandering in the desert. It prompts us to reflect on the importance of community, God’s faithfulness, and the gifts we’ve been given amidst the impermanence of life. Rather than just checking off the religious box, we can find new ways to lean in (and have fun doing it)! Here are seven ways to make the seven days of Sukkot memorable and significant—whether you build a sukkah or not, have celebrated every year or never before, or aren’t yet sure how it can fit into your life.
1. Host an outdoor (or indoor) movie night.
If you’re able to have an outdoor sukkah, turning it into a cozy outdoor movie theater is a fun way to bond with your family and friends! But even if the weather is keeping you inside, gather your crew to create an indoor movie fort. You could even turn it into a Sukkot sleepover and have everyone bring their sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets.
2. Plan a festive meal.
While there aren’t specific Sukkot dishes, eating in the sukkah is a key tradition of the holiday. Represent the cultures of those you invite in; have each of your guests bring a traditional dish that reflects their own heritage. Or, since we’re in the fall harvest season, each dish could highlight local, seasonal produce. Each guest could create their own small charcuterie boards that feature their favorite autumn foods!
Sukkot celebrates how God has abundantly provided for us, and a bounty of good food with friends and family is a symbol of that abundance. We thank God for the blessing of food before we eat, and after we’ve eaten, we thank Him for filling us. Ecclesiastes 9:7 tells us to “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart.” We’ll take that permission, thank you.
3. Spend time in nature.
Let’s be real—we all have busy lives and probably can’t spend hours a day in a sukkah. But we can intentionally make it a goal to take pauses in our day and find moments of solace in nature (even if it’s Central Park) during Sukkot. It’s a holiday that’s deeply connected with nature and the seasons—even the lulav and etrog are meant to symbolize harvest and bounty (Leviticus 23:40). You could take a book outside, coordinate a picnic with friends, or take a walk without earbuds, simply to take in the changing leaves. If you really want to commit, turn Sukkot into Jewish camping—set up a tent, look at the stars, and feel connected to your ancestors who looked up to the same sky.
4. Get up and dance.
If there’s any way to bring in the spirit of joy and celebration, it’s a good old dance party! Put on your favorite playlist (we created our own playlist as part of our free Shabbat guide, which can definitely be repurposed for the occasion!). Dancing is a way to express ourselves, let go, and have fun with friends.
When the ark of the covenant is brought to Jerusalem, David sings and dances with joy. He tells his wife that he was singing and dancing before the Lord, and that he was “willing to look even more foolish than this” (2 Samuel 6:22). When the Temple was still standing, grand candelabras were illuminated on Sukkot, and men danced bearing torches while the Levite orchestra played. The Talmud says, “He who has not beheld this celebration has never seen joy in his life.” Let’s bring that same spirit of joy and celebration into Sukkot!
When the ark of the covenant is brought to Jerusalem, David sings and dances with joy.
5. Pull out your journal and reflect.
Writing can help with reflecting. Pull out your journal or simply open a notes app on your phone and jot down some thoughts on Sukkot. Here are prompts to get you started: What does Sukkot show us about transience? In what ways does the world feel like a “temporary shelter,” and what is our hope for the future? How does the holiday make you feel connected with our ancestors? What memories do you associate with the holiday?
Sukkot reminds us of our ancestors’ wandering, but in many ways, it can feel like we’re still wandering today. Maybe we feel lost in our career path, relationships, or stuck in bad mental or physical health patterns. Though it may be an unintended nod to our ancestors, our own wandering can also remind us of God’s faithful provision that remains the same today.
6. Beautify your sukkah.
If people can bring a huge evergreen tree into their homes to decorate for the winter holidays, then we can surely get creative in decorating the sukkah (whether indoor or outdoor)! Make it a craft project (Rebekah Lowin always has great ideas), invite everyone to bring a decoration around a certain theme (is this the year of the Barbie sukkah?), or you could go the traditional route by decorating with harvest items and string lights. Check out the Sukkah Project to get your creative juices flowing. Make it inviting, make it cozy, make it yours!
7. Keep a community focus.
A Sukkot tradition is ushpizin: inviting exalted guests Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David to join us in the sukkah. But integral to our time in the sukkah is to invite a diversity of guests. In fact, Maimonides said that those who neglect to share their walls with the poor are performing a mitzvah not for joy but for the stomach. Even if you don’t have a sukkah, meeting up at a restaurant with an old friend or a new one for some outdoor dining (an urban sukkah!), or volunteering at a shelter or retirement home are great ways to bring the spirit of Sukkot with us throughout our day-to-day lives.
It’s a beautiful thing that the cycle of Jewish life allows us to gather, to remember, and to reimagine our celebrations each year. Maybe Sukkot doesn’t have to be overshadowed by the Days of Awe. Maybe it can be eagerly anticipated, creatively celebrated, and prompt us to grow in our faith. Let’s connect with our heritage, our ancestors, and the God who has sustained us throughout the seasons. L’Shana Tova!
- The Babylonian Talmud, trans. into English under the editorship of Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein (London: The Soncino Press, 1952), s.v. “Sukkah 5:1.”
- Rambam, Mishneh Torah (Jerusalem: Koren Publishers, 2017), s.v. “Laws of Yom Tov 6:18.”