Preparations for Yom Kippur begin early in the morning with the kaparot (atonement) rite. This consists of passing a chicken over one's head and reciting a traditional text. The chicken is ritually slaughtered and given to charity. Click here for more about this ceremony.
On this day the primary mitzvah is to eat and drink in abundance. Two meals – festive affairs – are eaten, one earlier in the day, and one just prior to the onset of Yom Kippur. In many communities it is customary to eat kreplach – dumplings filled with ground meat or chicken. Click here for more about the pre-Yom Kippur feasting.
In between the prayer services and preparing and eating the two meals, there is a lot to squeeze in:
- Yom Kippur erases all the sins we have committed "before G‑d"—but not the sins we may have committed against our fellow man. So we need to approach anyone whom we may have wronged and beg their forgiveness before Yom Kippur. Click here to read more about this.
- All men immerse in a mikvah (ritual pool) on the day before Yom Kippur. See here for more information.
- At some point during the day it is customary to ask for and receive lekach (sweet cake). See here for the reasons behind this.
Minchah (the afternoon prayer service) is prayed relatively early to allow ample time to eat the final meal. Before Minchah, it is customary for all men to receive symbolic "lashes" as a humbling reminder to repent, as well as for everyone to give charity generously – a great source of merit. Click here for more about the afternoon prayer service and surrounding activities.
Then we partake of the final meal. One must stop eating prior to candle-lighting time. Immediately before the fast begins, it is customary for parents to bless their children. Click here for more about the final meal and the traditional text for blessing the children.
Then, 18 minutes before sunset, women and girls light candles, and the fast begins. Click here for more details. (At this point, all 24-hour candles, which you can read about here, must have been lit as well.)