While there are significant differences between how we usher in and observe the secular and Jewish new year, both are times of transition that offer us an opportunity for self-reflection. Here are the key differences:
The secular new year, which follows the modern Gregorian and Julian calendars, is celebrated on the first day of January. Rosh HaShanah, literally meaning the “head” of the year, follows the Hebrew calendar, a luni-solar calendar. It is celebrated beginning on the first day of the Hebrew month of (which usually falls in September or October).
Timeframe and Tone
The secular New Year’s Eve is a time of merriment, drinking champagne, feasting, fireworks, and making resolutions.
Rosh HaShanah has a more serious and solemn tone. The noise associated with this High Holiday is the blowing of the Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting. The Talmud teaches that God determines who will live and who will die in the year to come on Yom Kippur.in the synagogue to mark the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe, a period of soul-searching reflection which concludes on
The secular New Year’s greeting is “Happy New Year.” On Rosh HaShanah, which is traditionally celebrated as “the birth of the world,” Jewish people greet one another with (a good year) or Shana tovah umetukah (a good and sweet year). The traditional foods eaten on Rosh HaShanah include apples dipped in honey, dates, pomegranate, and honey cake as a way of symbolizing the hope for a sweet new year.
The greeting from Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur, is g’mar chatimah tovah, “May you have a good final sealing in the Book of Life.”
A popular secular New Year’s Eve song is “Auld Lang Syne,” based on a poem written in 1788 by the national poet of Scotland, Robert Burns. It is sung at the stroke of midnight to bid farewell to the old year.
Perhaps the most recognizable prayer sung in synagogues on Rosh HaShanah is, a plea to God for compassion, forgiveness, and blessing. On the eve of Yom Kippur, is sung in synagogues.
Whether we talk about New Year’s resolutions or, returning to the path of righteousness, we can all benefit from taking a pause to consider where we have been in our lives, where we want to go, and how we plan to get from here to there.