In honor of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, groups of students at the University of Pennsylvania will construct and decorate small huts across campus this weekend.

The first-time initiative, called "Sukkathon 2012," was inspired by the traditional holiday practice of building outdoor huts before the celebration of Sukkot.

The huts, or "sukkahs," are built each holiday in homage to humble dwellings used by the Israelites during their 40-year trek through the desert following the exodus from Egypt.

Families celebrating Sukkot generally spend as much time as possible in their sukkahs, eating their meals inside and, in some cases, sleeping there as well.

For safety reasons, no one will be permitted to sleep in the sukkahs built on Penn's campus, Sukkathon project coordinator Naomi Hachen said. Students are, however, encouraged to eat their meals inside and study together in the sukkahs as well.

Once completed, the sukkahs will be judged according to their creativity and theme. Tentative themes for the inaugural Sukkathon includes Holocaust awareness, outer space (by a group of engineering students), and "Frat Shack" - a sukkah built entirely out of beer bottles and cans, naturally.

"This year is kind of like a pilot project," said Hachen, a junior bioengineering major. "I think that the idea is definitely cool enough to continue further."

Sukkathon is one of the few sukkah-building competitions across the nation and the only one in Philadelphia. The main difference from its predecessors is that Sukkathon puts a premium on the themes and focus of the sukkahs over architectural design.

"Our goal firstly is to give people an education about the holiday, both Jewish and the general student body," Hachen said. "We also want a real community focus within teams to help the students work together and get to know each other better in the process."

One group of friends participating in Sukkathon have decided to go an extra step with their design, incorporating some unique elements for a good cause. Team Wear-Care is building its sukkah out of string, yarn, and donated clothes.

"After we're done, we plan on donating the T-shirts to a local shelter," said Jessica Marder, a sophomore English major. "Don't worry, we're going to make sure we wash them first."

The building of the sukkahs will continue through Sunday, and will be completed before Sukkot officially begins at sundown. Each team will host an open house, and an awards ceremony barbecue will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday.

"Sukkathon 2012 is all about sharing our sukkahs with each other, and just having fun together as a community," Hachen said.

Contact Joe Trinacria at 215-854-2771 or