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A Week of Holidays

Ellen Levitt

Posted on November 22, 2022 19:22

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It's not just Thanksgiving this week; it's also Sigd and Evacuation Day.

The major focus this week is on the Thanksgiving holiday. After the acrimonious election season, tech industry and crypto-currency shakeups, and unforgivable mass killings, the familiar comfort and glow of Thanksgiving are like manna to most Americans. 

People want to gather together with their families and friends, eat and drink, reminisce about past celebrations, and embrace this opportunity to do so before the hectic weeks leading up to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and other holidays. 

But this last full week of November has two other holidays, not well known, that some of us are proud to call our own. Happy Sigd! Happy Evacuation Day! (If you're "celebrating" Black Friday, good luck; Giving Tuesday, very nice!)

Evacuation Day is the easier one to explain, it's secular, and it's particularly a New York holiday. It commemorates the evacuation of British troops from NYC following the War for Independence on November 25, 1783. It used to be a very big deal in New York, with parades, flag ceremonies, lavish dinners, dedications and more.

Over time it faded from popularity, but in 2016 a portion of Bowling Green Plaza in lower Manhattan was renamed Evacuation Day Plaza. There is a Liberty Pole in Brooklyn (actually, a replica, but still quite old) and in recent years there have been attempts to revive interest in this historic occasion.

So, yeah, Evacuation Day is a festive and thought-provoking day for New Yorkers. Huzzah!

Sigd is actually more important, a Jewish holiday that is especially significant for the Ethiopian Jewish community (often called Beta Israel) but growing in popularity among other Jewish groups. Sigd means "prostration" in Ge'ez, an ancient language, and is celebrated 50 days after Yom Kippur (one of the best-known Jewish holy days). The actual date in the Jewish calendar is 29 Cheshvan. This year it starts the evening of Tuesday, November 22 and lasts through the 23rd.

Sigd is marked by a half-day of fasting, prayer, reading from scriptures and Psalms; that is followed by feasting and dancing. The days leading up to Sigd are also commemorated, and it is a national holiday in Israel (since 2008). 

For the vast majority of Americans, and even to most Jews, Sigd is either unknown or obscure. In the past several years, I have commemorated the holiday by listening to Ethiopian Jewish music online and will get some kosher Ethiopian (and vegetarian) food at Ras restaurant. The greeting is "Melkam Sigd Bahal" (Happy Sigd). 

There is a certain charm to celebrating minor, and even very minor holidays. They seem exotic and less cliched. And these two holidays certainly do have meaning for me, as a Jewish person who has lived her whole life in NYC. 

When I taught high school social studies, especially US History and Participation in Government, I made a point of discussing Evacuation Day with my students. I have talked up Sigd with my family and friends. They are both positive days and special. Go ahead, celebrate them as well. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on November 22, 2022 19:22

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