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e Jewish calendar is a solar-lunar calendar. This means that every month correlates to the moon, and each month also falls during the same season every year. By comparison, the Gregorian calendar is solar only (the months can start anywhere in the lunar phase) and the Muslim calendar is lunar only. That’s why the month of Ramadan cycles through the seasons as the years go by. 12 lunar months are a little bit shorter than a solar year, so each year starts a little bit earlier than the last.
In order to keep up with the moon AND the sun, the Jewish calendar is rather complicated. The months can be either 29 or 30 days long, so that the first of every month is always on the new moon. The Jewish calendar also inserts an extra month every few years. Since the Torah specifies that Passover is always in the spring, the extra month is inserted in late winter. This year is a leap year, and we’re in the leap month right now.
You know how, when somebody is born on February 29th, they only get a birthday every 4 years? That can’t happen in the Jewish calendar. The first of every month is called Rosh Chodesh, literally “the head of the month.” When there are 30 day months, the 30th day is considered “the first day of Rosh Chodesh” for the following month. Say you’re born on the 30th of Av, and Av only has 29 days this year? That’s OK, your birthday is also Rosh Chodesh Elul, and so you celebrate on the first of Elul.
Similarly, the leap month doesn’t get its own name. Instead of having Adar this year, we have Adar I and Adar II. Adar II is “the real Adar.” Any Adar birthdays are celebrated in Adar II. Purim, which normally falls on the 14th of Adar, falls on the 14th of Adar II this year. Purim is observed by giving gifts of food, giving money to charity, hearing the Megilla (Book of Esther) read, and dressing up in costumes.
Tonight begins the 14th of Adar I, the day that would have been Purim, had it not been a leap year. It’s known as “Purim Katan” which translates to “Little Purim.” There are a few changes in the daily prayers, but it’s not REALLY a holiday. We don’t go to the synagogue to hear the Megilla read, we’re not all getting dressed up in costumes, and there’s no obligation to give gifts of food to our friends and neighbors. Good thing, too, considering the blizzard outside!
What I do plan to do later is bake hamentashen, a traditional Purim cookie. We’re not baking massive quantities to give out to all our friends. We’ll do that next month. Today I’m planning on just making one or two batches for ourselves. Enough to acknowledge the day, but since it’s a minor holiday, we won’t go crazy.
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