Zman simhateinu, the Season of Our Rejoicing, is here, and for many of us, our succa is set up and ready to welcome guests.

The first succa was erected in the wilderness exactly one year after the first Passover when the Israelites were freed from Egypt, around 1450 BCE.

Now, more than 3,400 years later, Jews around the world are still building and decorating their succa, inspired by nature, local customs, culture and personal taste.

Originally observed as a harvest festival, Succot was a kind of Thanksgiving when the farmers would celebrate the reaping of the seasonal fruit. The festivities involved building and living in booths, where seasonal fruits and vegetables were hung to show gratitude to God for the gifts of nature.

Even if your succa is already decorated, there is still time and room for additional touches on the ceiling, walls, table and chairs.

Since the Torah instructs us to create a temporary structure and regard it as our home, it lends itself easily to various decorative changes.

The season itself presents many decorating ideas, with a bounty of pumpkins, gourds and seasonal flowers. In the spirit of rejoicing, inspired by nature¹s abundance, tradition and creativity, here are some ideas for decorating your succa. Some of these can also be projects for children. The little ones may need your help, depending on their ages. All the materials mentioned can be found in arts and crafts, hobby and stationery stores.

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT

Let’s start from the ceiling down, with hanging decorations. These can include paper lanterns, mobiles and laminated posters with religious themes.

CLOUDS OF GLORY

As our ancestors wandered for 40 years through the desert after their exodus from Egypt and prior to their entry into the Holy Land, miraculous “clouds of glory” hovered over them, shielding them from the dangers and discomforts of the desert.

To make your own clouds, use white construction paper, available in sheets or pads. For a more “heavenly” touch, buy iridescent paper or sprinkle with glitter. Draw the cloud and cut around the shape. Draw a mirror image of the cloud. Glue the back sides together and hang with nylon wire. To make soft, fluffy clouds, use absorbent cotton or cotton balls, thread them together with nylon wire and hang.

Stars through the s’chach The Talmud says that one should not place too many branches on top of the succa so that the larger stars are still visible in the night sky.

To make your own heavenly bodies, draw several stars of different sizes on cardboard and cut them out. Trace the stars on silver metallic paper and cut them out. Each star will need a matching back. Glue the backs together, make a hole at the top and hang them with short piece of nylon wire as close as possible to the s’chach so they look like stars peeping through the branches.

Strings of Shana Tova cards Punch a hole at the top of each New Year card you have received, string them together with nylon wire, pretty yarn or colorful ribbon and hang them across the ceiling of the succa.

You can also clip them to the yarn or ribbon with colorful clothespins.

Paper chains Vary the paper chains with a combination of solid and patterned paper, metallic paper or bits of wrapping paper. Cut strips of paper in different sizes and colors. Staple each strip closed in a chain formation. Punch a hole at the end of each chain, thread together and hang across the succa ceiling.

WALL-TO-WALL DECOR

Working our way down, the walls are perfect for hanging pictures, as well as fruit and other ornaments. Drawings, photos, banners and posters are suitable for hanging on the walls, especially if the walls are made of wood or strong fabric.

This is an opportunity to get the children more involved in the succa and teach them about our heritage. Introduce them to the ushpizin, the seven supernal guests who come to visit us in the succa, one for each day of the festival. Guests are an important part of the Jewish home all year round and are particularly important on Succot, when we share with the stranger, the poor and the needy.

According to Chabad, “We fill our succa with our earthly guests, and we host seven supernal guests, the seven founding fathers of the Jewish people: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. While all seven ushpizin visit our succa on each of the seven days of Succot, each supernal guest is specifically associated with one of the festival’s seven days and is the leading or dominant ushpiza for that day.”

Some communities prepare a specially decorated chair for the main guest of each evening. Some celebrants also invite the wives of the founding fathers or other exemplary Jewish women, such as Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther.

Ushpizin decorations Have the children draw the ushpizin or other guests they would like to invite into the succa. You can surprise your guests by putting photos of them on the succa wall.

AT THE TABLE

Hand-decorated tablecloth As a means of artistic expression, let the kids draw on the tablecloth.

White paper tablecloths are available at all party stores.

Give the children crayons and magic markers and let them draw seasonal fruits and vegetables, the etrog and lulav, ushpizin, etc. A clear plastic tablecloth, available at any housewares store, will protect their artwork. It comes in 1.40-cm. width and is sold by the meter. When serving your meals, use solid color plates so the dishes don’t clash with the artwork.

Original place cards If you have small pictures of your guests, a nice touch is to use them on the table as place cards. Or the kids can affix colorful stickers on folded cardboard or draw pretty designs beside their names.

Pumpkin basket centerpiece Use a small pumpkin to house your floral centerpiece.

Define your basket and handle design with masking tape, then cut out the two wedges with a sharp paring knife. Remove seeds and pulp with a scoop. Peel off the masking tape and place a water-saturated block of floral foam inside the pumpkin (available in blocks from any florist). Insert the flowers into the foam, creating contrasts in texture and color as you go. Add some cool water to the foam every day and enjoy your arrangement all week long.

An edible succa Design a mini succa from edible ingredients. Use square rice cakes for the walls, pretzels or parsley for the roof, and candy for decorations on the top. Peanut butter or honey makes ideal glue to hold it all together. Build the succa on a serving dish because it will break if you move it. It’s almost too pretty to eat.

To avoid such temptation, you can have the kids fashion a mini succa using a shoe box as the basic structure.



THE FLOOR IS YOURS

Pull up a pillow When the Israelites wandered in the desert, they didn’t have tables and chairs. In that spirit, if you have young guests, dispense with the table and chairs and set cushions down on the floor. For serving, use trays or low plastic beach style tables covered with gaily printed cloths. This type of casual seating is ideal for a light meal or dessert entertaining.

Chair decorations When you use chairs, a lovely way to welcome your guests is by decorating the back of each chair with ribbons, hearts, burlap or dried flowers.

NEXT YEAR

Wrap it up Keep the decorations in a box for next year. The children will enjoy seeing their handiwork again and will be proud to put them up. To add new items to the mix, start making next year’s Succot decorations the last week or two of August before school starts.

The writer is an interior designer and the proprietor of Toby Designs

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