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15 Patron Saints for Modern Situations

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Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints, often referred to as All Saints' Day or All Hallows (hence October 31 is Halloween, a contraction of All Hallows' Evening). In honor of the day, we present to you some of the lesser-known (and more modern) patronages of the saints.

Performers

There's a great story about St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors, that tells of how he had an epiphany while performing in a play satirizing Christian sacrament and converted to Christianity on the spot, right in the middle of the play. Emperor Diocletian, for whom the play was being performed, was enraged and, when Genesius refused to change his mind, had the performer tortured and beheaded. Sadly, this story is just that—a story—that originated three centuries after Genesius' death. Genesius was actually a legal clerk who became so upset about the edict of persecution for Christians that he left his position and went in search of baptism. He was beheaded, around 303 CE, but there's no evidence to suggest the conversion-during-a-play story is accurate. Nevertheless, St. Genesius remains the go-to patron for actors.

St. Vitus has a slightly more legitimate reason to be patron saint of performers, but it's still a bit contrived. Also martyred circa 303 CE during the persecution of Christians under the co-ruling Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian, Vitus is one of the "Fourteen Holy Helpers," a group of saints venerated together because their intercession is considered especially effective. Vitus' feast day, June 15th, was celebrated in the late Middle Ages with dancing in front of a statue of the saint (see the image at left). He thus was adopted as the saint of dancers, and of performers in general. He's also the patron saint of those suffering from epilepsy and Sydenham's chorea, a.k.a. Saint Vitus Dance, "a disease characterized by rapid, uncoordinated jerking movements."

Advertising, Television, & Broadcasting

Bernardine of Siena, who was a Franciscan priest, is considered the patron saint of advertisers, an honor that stems from his passionate and highly persuasive preaching. When he first became a Franciscan (an order known as missionary preachers), Bernardine focused on prayer and didn't praech much due to a weak, hoarse voice. After 12 years, he journeyed to Milan on a mission, where he preached with a voice so "strong and commanding" and "words so convincing that the crowd would not let him leave unless he promised to come back." From then on, he spent almost all of his time preaching, and even turned down several offers to be bishop. In 1444, he realized his death was imminent, and preached for 50 consecutive days until his death.

The funny thing about St. Bernardine being the patron saint of advertising is that he was noted for his dislike of indecent talk, something that features heavily in much of modern advertising. Once when he was a boy, an adult for some reason thought it would funny to stop Bernardine in the town square and publicly embarrass him with indecent talk, but the tables were turned when young Bernardine slapped the man across the face, humiliating him.

Radio broadcasters (and "communication workers" in general) can look to Gabriel the Archangel as their patron saint. Gabriel is, of course, the angel who appeared to Mary to announce her pregnancy with the Son of God. He's also the angel who announced to Daniel the "seventy times seven" prophecy and the angel who foretold the birth of St. John the Baptist to Zachariah.

And for those working in television, there's St. Clare of Assisi. Clare was inspired to imitate Francis of Assisi after hearing him preach, and she ran away from home to "live a poor humble life for Jesus," eventually founding an order of nuns known as the "Poor Clares." Near the end of her life, Clare became too sick to attend daily mass. Sick in her bed on Christmas Eve, she saw visions of the chapel mass on the wall of her cell, complete with organ music and singing. Considering this miracle to be the first live broadcast, Pope Pius XII declared St. Clare the patron saint of television in 1958. Bonus fact: It was a Poor Clare nun, Mother Angelica, who founded EWTN (Eternal World Television Network), which broadcasts Catholic-themed programs including daily mass.

Beer, Brewers, & Alcoholics

Beer has just one patron saint, an Austrian bishop who was known for extolling the benefits of drinking beer. St. Arnold was born into a prominent Austrian family in 580 CE. In that time, water wasn't actually very safe to drink, as it was often filled with contaminants that could make people sick. Beer's preparation, however, kills off any harmful bacteria, making it positively healthy in comparison. Arnold spoke often on the topic of beer, especially its health benefits. He's credited with the statement, "From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world."

About a year after Arnold's death and burial at his monastery in Remiremont, France, his body was relocated to the local church in Metz, France, where he had frequently preached. According to legend, the procession that transported his body stopped at a tavern for refreshment on the way, but there was only one mug of beer left, so they all split it... and the mug never ran dry, quenching the crowd's thirst.

Today, there's a brewery in Houston named for the patron saint of beer: Saint Arnold Brewing Company.

Brewers have a whole assortment of patron saints to call their own: Augustine of Hippo, Luke, Nicholas of Myra, Amand, and Wenceslaus. Yet the explanations for these patrons are lacking. The only one given an explanation is St. Augustine of Hippo, and it's shaky at best. According to Catholic.org: "St. Augustine of Hippo is the patron of brewers because of his conversion from a former life of loose living, which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions. His complete turnaround and conversion has been an inspiration to many who struggle with a particular vice or habit they long to break."

His early bad boy lifestyle may have been a classic case of rebellion—his mother was the super holy St. Monica, who managed to convert her husband and his mother to Christianity. She prayed for Augustine through 17 years of his "loose living" and was consoled by a priest who told her, "It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish." Eventually, her prayers and preaching won out, and Augustine cast aside "all impurity" and began living "in imitation of Jesus."

Speaking of St. Monica, she's known as the patron saint of alcoholics (and those affected by them). In addition to her challenges with her son Augustine, her husband was an abusive alcoholic pagan whom she had married through arrangement at a young age. Despite their differences and his bad temper, Monica was able to not only "nag him to sobriety," as one site put it, but to convert him to her faith. She's also the patron saint of wives and victims of abuse, as you may have been able to guess.

Illegitimate Kids, the Divorced, & Single Moms

There isn't much information available as to why St. John Francis Regis is regarded as the patron saint of illegitimate children, but it's most likely related to his work with "wayward women and girls." John was ordained in 1630 and embarked on a life of assisting others, including helping wayward women and girls "withdr[a]w from vice," establishing hostels for prostitutes, and providing girls with incomes by setting them up as lacemakers (which is why he's also the patron saint of lacemakers).

Those who have been divorced, especially women, can look to Helena of Constantinople, mother of Constantine the Great, as their patron saint. St. Helena (also known as St. Helen) is most often associated with the True Cross, since she is credited with finding the relics of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. However, her personal life suits her to patronage of divorcées. It's unknown exactly when and how she met Emperor Constantius, but it is said that when they met he saw her as "his soulmate sent by God." Sources are also unsure as to the exact nature of their relationship: some say it was a legal marriage, others a common-law marriage; some say she was his wife, others his concubine. Whatever the specifics, the two were in a relationship that produced an heir, Constantine, around the year 272 CE. They remained together for at least 15 years, but in 289 CE Constantius, who was Roman Emperor Caesar, divorced Helena to enter into a politically advantageous marriage with a younger woman, Theodora, who was the stepdaugher of Maximian, Roman Emperor Augustus at the time.

As for single moms, they have St. Margaret of Cortona, who became the mistress of a nobleman when she was a teenager. Margaret remained with the nobleman for ten years and even bore him a son, despite his refusal to marry her as she desired. She left only after his murder (don't worry, she wasn't the one who killed him) and returned home to her father's house with her son, but her stepmother refused to let her stay. She took refuge with the Church of Saint Francis in Cortona, eventually joining the Third Order of St. Francis (although her past led to resistance by some members of the order).

The Ugly & Those Suffering Discrimination

Drogo of Sebourg, who was born into Flemish nobility, held himself responsible for his mother's death in childbirth and practiced extreme penance, ridding himself of all possessions at age 18 to become a penitential pilgrim. During one pilgrimage, he suffered an "unsightly bodily affliction." The term "unsightly" is actually a bit too mild to properly convey Drogo's condition: he became so deformed that townspeople were scared of his appearance, and they even built a cell (attached to a church, since he was so religious) for him to stay in, to "protect the local citizens of the village from his appearance." Yeah, he was that ugly. For the remaining 40 years of his life, the only human contact he had was via a small window in the door of his cell, through which he received his sustenance—barley, water, and the Eucharist. So if you feel that you're ugly or deformed, send up a prayer through St. Drogo... or just remind yourself he had it a lot worse.

There's also St. Germaine, who supposedly was abandoned by her parents as a young child due to her unattractiveness. She spent her life isolated from society; as a shepherdess, she slept in fields and under stairways and had limited human interaction.

Desperate Situations and Impossible Cases

People who feel they're facing desperate situations can comfort themselves with the knowledge that they have several patron saints to whom they can turn: Jude, Gregory the Wonderworker, and Eustace. Really, the majority of the officially recognized saints suffered through "desperate situations," so almost any of them are worth a shot. St. Jude is probably the most well-known for desperate situations (and lost causes). His reputation as patron of the desperate is due to his New Testament letter, which "stresses that the faithful should persevere in the environment of harsh, difficult circumstances, just as their forefathers had done before them," according to Catholic.org.

If your situation is truly impossible, though, you have only one person to turn to: Rita of Cascia. From childhood, Rita (also known as Margarita) yearned to be a nun, but her parents forced her into marriage at age 12 to "a rich, quick-tempered, immoral man, who had many enemies in the region." She endured his "insults, abuse, and infidelities" and persevered in converting "her cruel husband from his wicked ways, making their home a peaceful sanctuary of holy bliss." They went on to have two children together. Despite her husband's change of heart, his past led to his downfall; he was stabbed to death, betrayed by his allies. As her sons grew older, they plotted revenge for their father's murder and wouldn't listen to reason from Rita. So Rita turned to prayer instead, and her sons died non-violent deaths before they were able to enact any revenge.

Now that we've run down some of the quirkier patron saints, we're curious to know about your favorites. Who's your favorite patron saint? Or what do you wish there was a patron saint for?

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Why 3 Man-Sized Cages Hang From a Medieval German Church Steeple
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Visitors to St. Lambert’s church in Münster, Germany may notice something odd about the building’s facade. Three gleaming iron cages, 7 feet tall and a yard wide and deep, hang empty from the church spire. Once home to the mutilated bodies of three revolutionaries who shaped one of the strangest chapters in the Protestant Reformation, the cages have hung there for nearly 500 years. They remain on the spire as a testament to their former occupants’ experiment in religious utopia—and the tremors they sent through German religious and political life for years after their occupants' deaths.

MÜNSTER’S RADICAL ROOTS

In 1530, Münster was a divided city. Although technically self-governing, the Catholic Church vied with the city council for control of the town. The aristocrats who had owned the land and nearly everything on it for generations existed in sharp conflict with the peasants, craftsmen, and trade guilds that were beginning to threaten their economic dominance. Meanwhile, Germany was still recovering from a 1525 peasant uprising that didn’t have much of an effect on Münster, but frayed the nerves of the ruling class across the Holy Roman Empire. To make matters worse, Europe was also still reeling from the startling intensity of the Protestant Reformation, 13 years after Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses.

Against this fraught backdrop, an evangelical Protestant preacher named Bernhard Rothmann began preaching against Catholic doctrine and drew a large following in Münster, particularly among the peasants and the trade guilds. Alarmed at his threat to their dominance, the Catholic Church banned him from the pulpit. But in February 1532, a mob of his supporters stormed St. Lambert’s church—the main parish church in Münster—and installed Rothmann as its preacher.

That May, Franz von Waldeck was elected prince-bishop of Münster, becoming the highest-ranking Church official in town. As the little brother of the Count of Waldeck-Eisenberg, a minor aristocrat, young Franz had access to family money and military power. Rothmann’s Protestant rabble-rousing threatened to turn Münster against the Catholic Church, which would render the new prince-bishop's position powerless. Von Waldeck hired mercenary cavalry to blockade Münster until its citizens expelled Rothmann and his allies—but the city council, under pressure from Rothmann’s supporters, refused.

And the people of Münster struck back: In a surprise attack early on the morning of December 26, 600 armed townspeople, backed by 300 newly minted city soldiers, assailed von Waldeck at his council in nearby Telgte. They raided his residence, and captured several high-born hostages. But after a neighboring noble stepped in to mediate the conflict, von Waldeck signed a treaty of religious toleration on February 14, 1533, allowing Protestant pastors to preach from Münster’s parish churches.

That caught the attention of a band of Dutch Anabaptists led by one Jan Matthijs, who for years had been persecuted for their faith and chased from town to town throughout the Low Countries. The Anabaptists believed in baptizing only adults, not children, marking them as radicals even among their fellow Protestants, who feared that unbaptized children who died before reaching adulthood would burn in hell—and who feared the upturning of social orders the Anabaptists represented. Four years before Münster’s religious toleration treaty, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had ordered that every Anabaptist in his territory “shall be brought from natural life to death with fire, sword, or the like.”

Matthijs, a charismatic baker-turned-Anabaptist prophet, sent two of his acolytes to Münster in January 1534. When they arrived, Rothmann—who by then had become more radical and supported the idea of adult baptism—embraced them. The Anabaptists reportedly rebaptized 1400 people (20 percent of the city’s adult population) within a week of their arrival. Along the way, they spread Matthijs’s apocalyptic prophesy: Jesus Christ would return to Earth that Easter, and all Christians needed to prepare themselves for the imminent end of the world.

THE NEW JERUSALEM

An 1840 painting of Jan of Leiden baptizing a girl
An 1840 painting of Jan of Leiden baptizing a girl
Johann Karl Bähr, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

On February 11, 1534, the Münster city council granted full religious toleration to Anabaptists, who began referring to Münster as the “New Jerusalem.” They sent out messengers far and wide to recruit new believers to the city. As the month went on, armed city employees reportedly moved through the city warning those who refused adult baptism to flee, reportedly crying "Get out of here, you godless. God will punish you!" When Matthijs arrived, he delivered a sermon calling for the execution of Catholics and Lutherans alike. He preached, "Everywhere we are surrounded by dogs and sorcerers and whores and killers and the godless and all who love lies and commit them!" When the execution idea failed to fly, his advisors convinced him to settle for expelling the Catholics and Lutherans from the city.

More than 2000 Catholics and moderate Protestants poured out of Münster—and just as many Anabaptists streamed in from the countryside to replace them. By February 23, a new city council election gave the Anabaptists, led by Matthijs, full control of Münster. Watching these developments from outside the walls, Bishop von Waldeck prepared to besiege the city with a mercenary army in hopes of reestablishing Catholic control.

Münster simultaneously prepared to battle von Waldeck and to meet Jesus Christ. The citizens beefed up the city walls. They rounded up all residents who hadn’t yet been rebaptized and forced them to accept baptism or leave. They confiscated food and weapons from departing Catholics, and then, in March, the city council abolished private property altogether. That month, Matthijs also had all archives, documents, contracts, accounts, and ledgers destroyed in a Fight Club-style attempt to abolish all debt. "Everything that Christian brothers and sisters have belongs to the one as well as to the other," Rothmann preached.

Meanwhile, von Waldeck’s troops surrounded the city and the siege began.

DOOMSDAY POSTPONED

On April 5, 1534, Easter came—but Christ did not. With his apocalyptic prophecy shattered, Matthijs claimed to have a divine vision. He mounted a horse and sallied forth with a small entourage to personally break von Waldeck’s siege and free the city. But his plan failed miserably: Von Waldeck’s troops ran Matthijs through with a spear, and then put his head on a spike in front of the city gates for all of Münster to see. The Anabaptists’ prophet was dead.

To quell the city’s rising panic, Matthijs’s main lieutenant, a 25-year-old tailor named Jan of Leiden, gave a speech reinterpreting the apocalyptic prophesy and postponing doomsday. On April 8, he dissolved the elected city council and appointed 12 elders to run the city.

Münster became increasingly militarized: Armed bands of citizens lived communally near their posts by the city gates, and two church steeples were repurposed as platforms for cannons. Residents adhered to a regimented daily schedule, and were required to wear simple clothing to erase social distinctions.

But as the city transformed, it still faced threats from the outside. Von Waldeck launched a massive engineering project to drain the moat surrounding Münster and allow his troops to attack the city gates. He conscripted over 2000 farmers from the surrounding land to leave their spring planting aside and dig a drainage ditch under cover of night. With the moat drained, von Waldeck's cannons pummeled Münster's walls for four straight days. But when the prince-bishop finally attacked on May 25, the Anabaptists staved off his disorganized and reportedly drunk mercenaries.

In June, an Anabaptist woman named Hille Feicken hatched a plan to assassinate von Waldeck and break the siege. She was inspired by the Biblical character Judith, who during the siege of Bethulia seduced the attacking general Holofernes and beheaded him in his sleep. Early in the morning on June 16, Feicken snuck out of Münster to seduce von Waldeck—but unlike Judith, she was quickly discovered, captured, and executed.

Soon after Feicken’s death, Jan of Leiden announced his plans to legalize polygamy and make marriage mandatory for all women—even those who had living Catholic or Protestant husbands in exile. Those who refused to marry were imprisoned in church cloisters, where preachers attempted to reeducate them. Historians speculate that Jan of Leiden’s motives were partially demographic: At that point, there were 2000 adult men and over 5500 adult women in Münster. The unmarried women were not under the protection—or control—of a husband, who might prevent them from sneaking off like Hille Feicken did.

Rothmann defended Jan of Leiden's decision. "God wills to create something new on earth," he wrote. "Just as the women commonly have been lords and have had their own way, now among us he has subjected the women to the men, so that all of them, young as well as old, have to let themselves be ruled by the men according to the word of God."

The polygamy announcement drew major backlash. On the night of July 30, 1534, 47 conspirators, led by a blacksmith named Heinrich Mollenhecke, attempted to overthrow the city government. They managed to take Jan of Leiden prisoner and hole up in the city hall, but the majority of Münster didn’t rally to the conspirators’ cause. Loyalists surrounded the mutineers, forcing them to surrender and free Jan of Leiden.

Over the next four days, all 47 conspirators were shot or beheaded. The polygamy plan went forward, and every woman in Münster was married. (Jan of Leiden himself reportedly took as many as 16 wives over the next year, including Jan Matthijs’s widow.)

A NEW KING

Meanwhile, von Waldeck's siege continued. He launched yet another assault in August 1534, which the Anabaptists narrowly repelled. Afterward, a new Anabaptist prophet, a goldsmith named August Johann Dusentschuer, proclaimed that Jan of Leiden should rule as king. Jan of Leiden accepted the prophecy, adding that God had revealed to him that he was to be the new King David and rule until Jesus’s return to Earth. He replaced the Council of Elders with a royal court and began wearing a crown and carrying a scepter.

Over the winter, von Waldeck choked off all remaining routes in or out of Münster with walls and moats. The city ran out of grain and residents began slaughtering young cows for food. "Anyone who still has something must share with his brother," Jan of Leiden declared. But by April, facing a mounting famine, the king dismissed exhausted and hungry women, children, and old men from the city. About 1600 armed men remained within the walls.

As life inside of Münster became increasingly grim, Jan of Leiden promised his subjects that God would deliver them from the prince-bishop's besieging army. "God will smite them in their hearts, so that they will run away," he predicted. But by Easter, he clarified that he meant his promise of deliverance in a metaphorical, spiritual sense—not literally.

In May 1535, an Anabaptist carpenter named Heinrich Gresbeck tried to flee Münster, but was captured by von Waldeck’s troops. In exchange for his life, he agreed to help the besiegers take the city. On the night of June 25, he led 300 of von Waldeck’s soldiers into town through a poorly guarded city gate. The prince-bishop’s forces fought their way through the streets of Münster for hours, killing over 600 Anabaptists before the city surrendered. They took Jan of Leiden, his viceroy Bernd Knipperdollinck, and another Anabaptist leader named Bernd Kretchtinck prisoner. Bernhard Rothmann, the upstart Protestant preacher who had stirred up the entire conflict from his pulpit at St. Lambert’s church, apparently died fighting, although his body was never found.

With von Waldeck's victory, events took an even more gruesome turn. On January 22, 1536, the prince-bishop gathered a crowd in front of city hall to see Jan of Leiden, Knipperdollinck, and Kretchtinck tortured and killed. Executioners ripped the flesh from their bodies with hot tongs for an hour before stabbing them each in the heart. Their bodies were bound into iron cages and then hoisted from the tower of St. Lambert’s church.

IN “MEMORY OF THEIR DEPARTED SOULS”

As he retook control of Münster, von Waldeck re-Catholicized the city, and from 1536 on he appointed the city council members himself. Citizens weren’t allowed to elect their own representatives again until 1554.

The Münster Rebellion also marked the end of the militant streak in Anabaptism. The Münster Anabaptists were universally condemned, and exaggerated accounts of their treachery have circulated until the present day. Although the religious movement continued for centuries—evolving into today’s Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites—no Anabaptist group would ever attempt to take and wield political power on that level again.

The bodies of the three Anabaptist leaders stayed in their cages for 50 years before St. Lambert’s removed them, prompting artists to draw pictures of ravens descending on the church tower to feast on stray bits of flesh. But the original cages remained, even after the tower from which they hung was demolished and replaced in the 1880s. The church repaired the cages, which had been damaged by rust, and strung them back up on the newly constructed tower.

When British bombs hit the church on November 18, 1944, the highest cage—Jan of Leiden’s—fell into the street, another fell into the organ loft, and the third remained dangling by a thread. When the church rebuilt the tower four years later, workers repaired and replaced the cages, commenting on their sturdy construction.

In 1987, as a small act of reconciliation, the church installed a small yellow bulb in each cage to burn from dusk until dawn each night “in memory of their departed souls.”

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11 Sweet Facts About Rosh Hashanah
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The first Rosh Hashanah supposedly occurred in the Garden of Eden. But what does this important Jewish holiday involve today?

1. IT LITERALLY TRANSLATES AS "HEAD OF THE YEAR."

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, can fall any time between the fifth of September and the fifth of October on the Gregorian Calendar. On the Jewish calendar, it is the first day of the month of Tishrei and marks the start of the High Holy Days. These days are also known as the days of awe, ushering in the final phase of atonement. The holiday celebrates the anniversary of the creation of the world.

2. FOR THE MONTH BEFORE, JEWS ASK FOR FORGIVENESS FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY.

In order to have a clean slate going into the New Year, Jews ask for forgiveness from those close to them. The idea here is that God cannot forgive transgressions against people until those wronged have forgiven.

3. TRADITIONALLY, ROSH HASHANAH HAPPENS OVER TWO DAYS.

These days are combined into the yoma arichta, or "long day." At sunset on the first evening, candles are lit by the lady of the house. Then blessings are recited: a traditional holiday blessing over the candles, followed by the shehecheyanu, a thanksgiving prayer for special occasions. Both evenings also feature a festive meal.

4. UNLIKE DECEMBER 31, THE JEWISH NEW YEAR IS A TIME OF SERIOUS REFLECTION AND REPENTANCE.

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Even Jews who go to synagogue at no other time of year will often go on the high holidays, which include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Religious poems called piyyutim are recited and a special high holy day prayer book called the machzor is used. The service is often longer than Sabbath services, and centers around the theme of God’s sovereignty, remembrance, and blasts of the shofar (see below).

5. DESPITE NOT BEING A HUGE PARTY, JEWS ARE EXPECTED TO ENJOY THE YOM TOV, OR HOLIDAY.

People often get fresh haircuts and new clothes in order to celebrate. The tradition is to wear white clothing as a sign of purity and renewal. Some avoid wearing red, since it's the color of blood.

6. ACCORDING TO THE TALMUD, ON ROSH HASHANAH, GOD INSCRIBES EVERYONE'S NAMES INTO ONE OF THREE BOOKS.

The metaphorical understanding is that good people go into the Book of Life, and evil ones into the Book of Death; those who are in the middle are put in an intermediate one and have judgment put off until Yom Kippur. Since virtually no one is all good or all evil, you're supposed to assume you fall somewhere in the middle, and in order to be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year, it is important to do everything possible to atone before Yom Kippur.

7. THE SOUNDING OF THE SHOFAR IS THE MOST ICONIC IMAGE OF THIS HOLIDAY.

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The shofar is a ram’s horn that is curved and bent. It is hollowed out and blown during religious ceremonies to make three different sounds. Hearing it is meant to call you to repent.

8. WHILE SOME JEWISH HOLIDAYS INVOLVE FASTING, ROSH HASHANAH INVOLVES A FEAST.

It is traditional to eat apples dipped in honey to represent having a sweet year ahead. A round challah bread symbolizes the cycle of the year (another interpretation is that it represents a crown and thus God’s sovereignty). Sometimes a fish, or just its head, is included, possibly to represent that as fish cannot survive without water, Jews cannot survive without the Torah. Pomegranates contain many seeds, which have long been associated with the commandments that Jews follow, so by eating them they remind themselves to be good in the coming year. Other common foods include dates, leeks, gourds, and black-eyed peas, all of which are mentioned in the Talmud as foods to eat on New Year’s.

9. SOME BRANCHES OF JUDAISM PARTICIPATE IN THE RITUAL OF TASHLIKH, OR "CASTING OFF."

The ritual involves standing near water, like a river, and reciting prayers. Then participants symbolically cast away their sins by throwing bread crumbs or stones into the water. This is supposedly derived from the Biblical passage “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), although most Jewish sources trace it back to 15th century Germany. In New York City, large groups gather on the Brooklyn Bridge, while in Israel—where there is much less open water—people might use something as small as a fish pond.

10. THERE ARE VARIOUS TRADITIONAL GREETINGS FOR ROSH HASHANAH.

L'Shana Tova Tea-ka-tayvu is Hebrew for “May you be inscribed for a good year,” referring to that person’s name being put in the Book of Life. This is often shortened to Shana Tova, which just means “Good Year.” This isn’t to be confused with wishing each other a “Happy New Year.” Happy implies a level of superficiality, while the Jewish wish for a good year hopes the person will achieve their purpose.

11. THE HAVDALAH PRAYER IS PERFORMED AS NIGHT FALLS ON THE SECOND AND LAST DAY.

It involves saying blessings over a full cup of kosher wine or grape juice, although other drinks can be used in a pinch. After this, Rosh Hashanah is over.

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