During the holiday of Sukkot, Jews live in sukkot (temporary dwellings with a roof of branches or wooden boards) for seven days. Although the bare minimum required for a kosher sukkah is a few walls and a roof of branches through which one can see the stars, there is, as with all Jewish rituals, the practice of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah. There are several ways in which one might beautify one’s sukkah. The simplest beautification, of course, is using quality materials in building the sukkah and setting a beautiful table therein for the holiday meals. The more elaborate means of beautifying a sukkah, however, is through attractive decorations.
Some might think that decorating a sukkah is child’s play. Paper chains and school art projects are often the mainstay of a family’s sukkah. But, the adornment of the sukkah can be far more sophisticated. In the oldest records of Jewish life, the sages took for granted that a sukkah will be decorated: “…adorned it with embroidered hangings and sheets, and hung therein nuts, almonds, peaches, pomegranates, bunches of grapes, wreaths of ears of corn, [vials of] wine, oil or fine flour…” (Sukkah 10a). The specific decorations noted by the sages all celebrate the bounty of the harvest season, which is appropriate as Sukkot is also referred to as Chag Ha’asif (the holiday of the ingathering of the harvest).
The choice of sukkah decorations is often a reflection of one’s heritage. Persian Jews traditionally adorned their sukkot with Persian rugs. Jews who follow the Judeo-Spanish heritage might continue the custom of hanging bisochos, sweet, sesame seed-covered cookie rings. The most common decorations, however, remain agricultural in nature and often feature the seven species for which God praises the Land of Israel: wheat and barley (often hung in glass jars), grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
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