Since Jewish holidays begin at sunset, most home rituals related to Rosh Hashanah take place in the evening. The central home ritual of this holiday consists of a special festive meal, during which families use their nicest china and place settings, much like on a Friday evening at the beginning of Shabbat. The holiday celebration begins with the lighting of candles (hadlakat nerot), symbolizing the transition from profane to sacred time, and the recitation of the blessing thanking God for enabling us to reach this season (shehecheyanu).
Next, one sanctifies the holiday by reciting the special kiddush (blessing over wine) for Rosh Hashanah. It is a custom to ensure that all family members and guests are able to participate by holding and drinking from their own cup of wine or grape juice. As with all other festivals, it is traditional to recite the shehecheyanu prayer again after the kiddush and before drinking.
Before partaking of the meal, one recites hamotzi, the blessing over bread. This is also a feature of Friday night Shabbat meals in which this blessing is made over challah, the traditional twisted egg loaves. However, because Rosh Hashanah celebrates the cyclical passage of time and the recurring progression of seasons and holidays, it is customary to make the blessing over round loaves of sweet raisin bread, symbolizing the circle of life and the revolving seasons. And because we want to ensure that the coming year will be a sweet one, filled with good and joyous experiences, the bread is sweetened by drizzling honey over the pieces of bread as one is about to eat.
To express the hope that it will be a sweet year, one of the most well-known and popular customs of Rosh Hashanah is to eat apples dipped in honey. Why? It is a tradition to eat a newly ripened fruit for the first time that season, and since Rosh Hashanah falls around the beginning of apple season, the apple has become that “first fruit.” This provides us with the opportunity to recite the blessings both over the apple (bore pri ha’etz: who creates the fruit of the tree) as well as another shehecheyanu. And then, before eating the fruit dipped in honey, we ask God “to renew this year for us with sweetness and happiness.”
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