This November, there are a variety of holidays that encourage the gathering of families and friends: Día de Muertos in Mexico, Diwali in India, Thanksgiving in the United States, Saint Andrew’s Day in Scotland, and many others. These holidays offer the perfect opportunity to “break bread” with loved ones. While many will literally be breaking bread at their feast tables, the expression “break bread together” denotes sharing more than just food, but also feelings of love, trust, and togetherness.
Many believe that the phrase “breaking bread” originated in the New Testament of the Bible, where Jesus broke bread and shared it with his apostles during the Last Supper. It was this Scriptural sharing of bread that provides the basis for the Eucharist, or “Holy Communion.” However,
the ritual breaking of bread dates back to before the Last Supper and has a long Jewish history, a history with which Jesus, as a Jew, was familiar. The Jewish ritual of Shabbat involves breaking bread. Indeed, according to laws given to Moses by God, 12 breads were supposed to be placed
in the Tabernacle each Sabbath. It is from these Jewish traditions that we get the expression “breaking bread.”
As luck would have it, Homemade Bread Day falls on November 17, offering a chance for novice and expert bakers alike to try baking their own bread. When we think of bread, we mostly think of yeast breads, which must be allowed to rise and rest before baking. Quick breads, on the other hand, rise with the help of leavening agents like baking powder or baking soda, so there is no need to wait for the yeast to work. Regardless of your leaven, baking homemade bread fills the house with wonderful smells that are bound to attract a crowd. Challah is the traditional Jewish Sabbath loaf, a portion of which was separated as a gift for the kohanim, or priests. A yeast bread with honey-sweetened and egg-enriched dough, challah makes a light, tender loaf that is golden brown. The braided loaf looks like intertwined arms, symbolizing love or the interlocked principles of peace, truth, and justice. Its 12 humps recall the 12 ritual breads meant for the Tabernacle and the 12 tribes of Israel. With such a storied history, it is easy to see how sharing bread has come to symbolize a nourishing meal for both the body and the spirit.