Each year, at this time of year, I try to remind everyone of the appropriate greetings for the New Year, along with the meaning of the greetings. Each holiday offers a different greeting, and it can be confusing. I would like to share with you what I think are the appropriate salutations. I share this information as much for you as for me. It will help remind us of the customary felicitations for each of the holidays.
The special greetings begin with the month of Elul when we start to offer one of three familiar greetings, "shana tova" "a good year", "l'e-shana tova tikateivu" "may you be inscribed [in the Book of Life ] for a good year," or "le-shana tova umetukah tikateivu," may you be inscribed [in the Book of Life ] for a good and sweet year." For each of these greeting, there is a fitting response. When someone greets you with one of the above greetings, you can reply, "gam lekha," or "the same to you." The key here is that we are addressing people with a wish for them to have a happy and healthy New Year.
Rosh Hashana is seen by our tradition as the moment that the Book of Life is opened. Yom Kippur, through to Hoshana Rabba is seen as the time when the Book of Life is sealed for the coming year. Therefore, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we add in one word to our greeting. Our greeting now becomes "le-shana tova tikateivu va -tehateimu" "may you be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life]."
Once we reach Yom Kippur we change the greeting to "g'mar hatima tova," or "g'mar tov," both meaning, "a good final sealing [to you]." We use this greeting through Hoshana Rabba.
It becomes a little confusing when we get to Sukkot, because there is a new set of greetings unique to the holiday. On Sukkot we use greetings such as “good yontif.” “Yontif” is Yiddish for yom tov or holiday. We also use "hag same'ah,” which means “happy holiday.” Finally, the intermediate days of Sukkot (which are not totally holy and not totally secular, but something in between) have their own special greeting. The greeting is "moadim l’simcha," or “joyous holiday”
You do not have to memorize each of these heralds. I hope you can use this list to help decipher what people are saying to you. Ultimately, we use these welcoming words to heighten the sacredness of these days, and to raise our consciousness about their significance.
Allow me to conclude by wishing everyone a "shana tova umetukah tikateivu," may you be inscribed for a good and sweet new year.