I love that there are so many New Years in the year and especially when the New Year lines up with what feels like a new beginning for me: the autumn season and the start of the school year. In the Jewish calendar, the New Year is called Rosh Hashanah and begins with the new moon of the seventh month, which usually falls in September. This year, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown the evening of September 13.
As with most New Year celebrations, the holiday is preceded by a time spent in preparation; in this case, it is the whole preceding month of Elul that is spent in study and self-examination. There is also a purification aspect to the holiday in the custom of Tashlich, which developed in the Middle Ages when Jews would go to the nearest body of water and cast in bread to carry away their sins.
And like other New Year celebrations, special foods are served, often symbols of wishes for the coming year. Apples dipped in honey or pastries filled with honey represent sweetness. Particularly because the Yiddish word for carrot means to multiply, carrots represent wealth, especially when cut into coins. Pomegranates represent both fertility and plenty. The challah bread served is shaped in a spiraling circle to represent prayers rising to Heaven or the cycle of the year. Other round foods are also served: meatballs, dumplings, donuts, bagels, and knishes, or piroshki.
Food customs vary depending on where Jews settled. Joan Nathan in The Jewish Holiday Kitchen provides typical menus served by German, Russian, Sephardic, and Moroccan Jews. She describes how Moroccan Jews dip a date in anise seeds, sesame seeds, and powdered sugar, then eat it after saying, “As we eat this date, may we date the new year that is beginning as one of happiness and blessing and peace for all mankind.”
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”