My whole life I was raised with the erroneous mentality that chol hamoed is practically like chol—the only difference being that you must eat in a sukkah (on chol hamoed Sukkos) or may not eat chametz (on chol hamoed Pesach). This year, I decided to try to rectify my mistaken impression of these “intermediary days.” I took out my trusty kitzur Mishna Berurah and read through all the halachot of chol hamoed. The only problem was that, though the kitzur is terrific, it tends to focus on more ancient situations in halacha, which are hard to apply to the modern day. So I did a bit more research—I asked a knowledgeable friend (who also had access to a very useful book on the topic) and I looked up some things online (gotta love using the internet for a higher purpose). Although I’m not going to attempt to replicate all my findings, I just thought I’d mention a few practical things that I discovered.
1. You are supposed to dress nicely and eat special foods (ideally both a night meal and a day meal of bread) in order to clearly distinguish the days from chol
2. You can’t do laundry on chol hamoed.
3. You really are not supposed to write on chol hamoed, if at all possible (this refers to writing by hand). If you have to write, you should try to do it with a shinui (for example, making your letters incomplete, or writing with your left hand, if you’re a righty). However, you may write down something without a shinui if it is something that you will otherwise forget (examples in the Mishna Berurah: monetary accounts, or a “chidush” originated by you or another that you might otherwise forget)
4. Typing is generally considered “maaseh hedyot”—not a specialized action—and is therefore permitted (hoorah!)
I would recommend that anyone who is as ignorant as I was in this topic should do further research. There is a lot more to it than I ever knew.
In conclusion, the Gemara Yerushalmi indicates that the prohibitions of melacha on chol hamoed were instituted in order to give us more time to focus on Torah learning during these days. Chol hamoed is supposed to be sanctified chol—it is an example of the important Jewish concept of raising up chol and making it kadosh. Therefore, even if we find ways to get around most of these prohibitions, it is important that we do our best to fulfill this purpose. May the next few days provide an example for how to imbue chol with kedusha, and may they be filled with learning and joy in Zman Simchasenu!