Have you ever wanted to wish your Jewish friends a happy holiday, but maybe you weren’t sure if the upcoming Jewish holiday even was a happy one? You are not alone.
Jewish holidays typically fall into two categories:
- The celebratory: They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.
- The memorial and mourning: The They tried to kill us. They did. Let’s not eat.
“Happy” is very appropriate for the first set, but not so much for the second.
Here’s a list of appropriate greetings for Jewish holidays.
Happy Rosh Hashanah or Happy New Year.
It’s the Jewish new year and it’s a happy celebration. So wishing someone a “Happy Rosh Hashanah” is very appropriate.
Have a meaningful fast.
Yom Kippur is a solemn fast day. It’s for confession, repentance, and introspection. It’s not at all a happy day. There’s not much happy about going 25 hours without food.
There are several fast days on the Jewish calendar. Wishing someone a meaningful fast is appropriate for all of them.
If you look out your windows and see your Jewish neighbors put up a temporary building in their back yard, it’s probably Sukkot. It’s an eight day festival where we spend as much time as we can in the sukkah (a sort of temporary shed). It’s a mitzvah to invite friends in to eat in the sukkah, so if your Jewish friend invites you over, go on in, have something to eat, and wish them a “Happy Sukkot.”
Happy Simchat Torah.
Most non-Jews are completely unaware of this one, unless you live near a synagogue in which case you probably know this as something like, “The night when they’re out there singing and dancing again.” It’s a joyful holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah. We finish the yearly cycle of reading the Torah and sing and dance with it. Part of that celebration involves carrying the Torah scrolls outside the synagogue where we sing and dance with them. Out of the whole long list of Jewish holidays, this one’s my favorite.
This is probably the most well-known Jewish holiday, although it’s really only a minor one. We celebrate the victory of the Macabees and the miracle of the oil in the Temple lamp lasting eight days. Feel free to wish us a, “Happy Chanukah,” or “Happy Hanukkah,” or any number of other spellings of the holiday. Although, as a note from your token Jew, I’ll point out that “Chanukah,” is the spelling that’s closest to how it’s actually pronounced in Hebrew.
Happy birthday, trees.
Happy new year, trees.
I’m willing to bet money you will never have to use a greeting for this day. It’s commonly referred to as, “The New Year for trees.” It’s the date used for calculating the birthday for trees (traditionally, we don’t harvest trees during their first three years). We eat new fruits on this day. Some people celebrate a type of seder meal. In area where weather permits, some people plant trees on this day.
I’ve heard Purim referred to as “The Jewish Halloween.” The only similarity though is that we dress in costumes. This is the celebration of Esther and Mordecai’s survival and the survival of the Jewish people in Persia. We read the story of Esther. We dress in costumes. We eat and celebrate. When your Jewish friends post pictures of themselves and their kids in costumes towards the end of winter, it’s probably a safe bet to wish them a, “Happy Purim.”
Happy Passover: Good.
Do you want a sandwich/slice of cake/loaf of fresh-baked bread: Bad
Another good option in the days leading up to Passover: May your cleaning be thorough and easy.
Passover commemorates our escape from Egypt as told in the Exodus. We celebrate with large symbolic dinners (seder) and by not eating or even owning a whole variety of leavened products (during the Exodus, we ate flattened bread because we escaped so quickly we didn’t have time to wait for the dough to rise) for eight days. Not only do we not eat such products, but we have to completely remove any hint of them from our homes, vehicles, and offices which means thorough (and often maddening) cleaning. While it’s a happy holiday, the preparation can be overwhelming. The lack of most bread products will wear on us as the holiday goes on. There does come a point in the holiday where many people don’t feel all that happy. Matzah has happy childhood connotations for many of us, but there usually comes a point during Passover where I’m willing to fight someone for a slice of bread. So feel free to wish us a, “Happy Passover,” but know that we may smile, nod, and grumble a little while staring longingly at your sandwich.
Please do NOT make, offer, or send your Jewish friends food during this time. We love that you’re thinking of us and that cake looks delicious, but we can’t eat it during Passover.
Happy Lag Ba’Omer (good luck pronouncing that).
What a lovely new haircut!
Let’s be honest. You’ve never heard of this holiday. You will probably never have to greet someone for this holiday. If there are Jews and a bonfire, it’s probably Lag Ba’Omer. The Omer is the time after Passover. We count 33 days (lag is 33 in Hebrew). Many Jews celebrate with bonfires, picnics, and you’ll often find children playing with bows and arrows. It’s also when some little Jewish boys receive their first haircuts.
Please pass the cheesecake/blintzes.
If you have Jewish co-workers who like to cook, you may know this holiday as Cheesecake Day.
This celebrates the day the 10 Commandments were given. It’s traditional to eat dairy meals on this day and so dairy desserts have become associated with it. Cheesecake and blintzes are the most common.
The three weeks and Tisha B’av
Have a meaningful fast.
Tisha B’av is a major fast day. Many horrible events happened on this day in Jewish history. It’s one of the last days in a three-week mourning period. During that time, mourning customs are followed. So we avoid a variety of different things including parties, live music, cutting hair, etc. Those restrictions are lifted the day after Tisha B’av.
Shabbat happens every Friday evening through Saturday. It’s a break from the usual work week where we avoid some activities. We spend Friday night and some of Saturday in services. Feel free to wish your Jewish friends “Shabbat shalom.”
Upon hearing good news
Mazel Tov is a way to congratulate people. So, upon hearing good news, we often use that phrase. A word of caution for non-Jews, though. We do NOT say mazel tov for events that have not yet come to fruition (i.e. pregnancy). You can respond to a pregnancy announcement with your good wishes or happy thoughts, but it’s considered bad luck to wish a pregnant woman, “Mazel tov.”
If you’re unsure about a greeting, please ask. Your token Jewish friend probably doesn’t mind. This token Jewish friend certainly doesn’t, so feel free to use our “Ask a Jew” feature.
Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized, and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.