I married a nice Jewish boy, and it's been fascinating learning Jewish traditions and partaking in holidays that I previously mispronounced (Yom Kippur (yom keh'POUR) with a Rhode Island accent sounds like "yaahm kippah").
Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when you can trade in your English Happy New Year for the Hebrew L'shana tovah meaning "for a good year".
The Hebrew year is 5775. Members of the Tribe don't bother with B.C. or A.D.; they operate off a lunar calendar, not unlike the Babylonians or ancient Greeks. To really understand how a lunar calendar works, you'd have to be proficient in math and learn about an Alexandrian astronomer named Ptolemy and... well, I can't even balance my checkbook so we'll just talk about the food and the funnies.
The party begins promptly at sundown, so the common joke among revelers scrambling to leave their nine-to-five is to call it "Rush-a Home-a" (insert laugh track).
The festivities for Rosh Hashanah go for two full days making your standard Gregorian New Years seem like child's play. However, this is not so much a drunken 48-hour bender or a wake-up-soaked-in-vodka-next-to-a-stranger type of holiday. Instead, it's a gathering with family and the start of a 10-day stint called The Ten Days of Repentance of remembering to not be a dick. Ironic, of course, since December 31 draws a lot of dickish behavior from the woodwork. I don't know about you, but an additional 1 million over-served amateur drinkers meandering around Manhattan, vomiting on our subways, and pissing on our streets presents a less than godly disposition.
I'm only keen on the High Holidays (the biggies, like your Easter or Christmas, or for me personally, Halloween), but in actuality you can't swing a dead cat at a calendar without hitting a Jewish holiday. Here's a handy site if you don't believe me: http://www.isitajewishholidaytoday.com
Jewish holidays are all about food. My husband explained to me how they can be summed with this common adorable phrase:
They killed us. We got away. Let's eat!
On this holiday, the menu offers sweets like apples dipped in honey to symbolize a "sweet new year". His family usually serves chicken baked with apricots and prunes, good stuff.
There's challah bread, which is like carb-cocaine; there's wine, quite a bit of it; and there's an in-depth discussion about football and how the Jets are going to choke again this season (not sure if that last one is part of the ancient traditions -- will research later). There's also quite a bit of prayer involved, but my in-laws are reform so my experience and knowledge gleans from a Judaism-lite stance.
This concludes your Shiksa's Guide to Understanding Rosh Hashanah. Now, go forth and be merry... and don't be a dick this year. L'shana tovah!!!