I love how so many cultures and faiths celebrate the seasons of Mama Earth and Father Sky in their religious and spiritual holidays. Many have holy days and festivals associated with the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, the Summer and Winter Solstices, and many of these are rooted in the practices of their ancestors, some grown from agrarian practices and timing, others from ancient pagan beliefs.
But our pagan and earth-conscious ancestors recognized different — and gradual — stages of spring and, in some cultures, used those to mark the new year: the rising of sap in the trees, new growth in leaves and buds, birthing of lambs and other livestock (and the emergence of their mother’s milk), and the cycles of the Moon (such as Chinese New Year).
Our ancestors were tied to the cycles of the earth, essential for those who depended on the land for food, shelter and sustenance.
Many of the early rituals and festivals of our pagan and earth-conscious ancestors have found their way into the world’s major religions, and many contemporary holidays show evidence of those pagan or earth-based roots in their timing, practices and rituals.
For instance, Judaism celebrates New Year for Trees, Tu B’Shevat (the 15th day of the month Shevat). It is also known as Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot and Tu Bishavat. It is also considered the “birthday” for fruit trees. The Hebrew calendar is lunisolar, so the dates shift each year in relationship to our western Gregorian Calendar. In 2023, that date is from sunset February 5 to sunset February 6 (see footnote for future years).
This date honours the start of Spring, when the earliest-blooming trees in Israel would awaken from their winter dormancy and begin a new cycle of growth. It was also a marker for the fruit tree farmers to harvest “their fourth-year produce of fruit from recently planted trees to the Temple as first-fruit offerings”. (source)
I love how this year Tu B’Shevat coincides with the Celtic celebrations of Imbolg, both embracing the connection to spring and new beginnings.
On Tu B’Shevat, the tradition was — and still is — to honour the trees with a blessing and by enjoying the biblical ”seven spices” which included wheat and barley, and the fruits of the trees: olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates. I will definitely have some of those on Tu B’Shevat! And I look forward to trying some of these Tu B’Shevat recipes from Jamie Geller.
In contemporary times, the day is celebrated by planting trees, and as an ecological awareness day for the trees and their importance in our world: Trees are a source of oxygen and a source of food. They provide shade on a hot sunny day. They provide homes to creatures of the air and land, to insects, and other plants. They anchor the soil, and so much more.
In many ways, this festival is thematically similar to the Celtic festival of Imbolg, honouring the early spring of the year and, no surprise, with roughly the same timing!
Let us celebrate and honour the trees around us, and their New Year!
Raise your awareness to the signs of early Spring (or shifts in the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water) in your locale.
How might you celebrate early spring and the trees, or build into your practice to align your inner world and outer world?
Tu B’Shevat upcoming dates:
- 2023, sunset February 5 to sunset February 6
- 2024, sunset January 24 to sunset January 25
- 2025, sunset February 12 to sunset February 13
- 2026, sunset February 1 to sunset February 2
- 2027, sunset January 22 to sunset January 23
- 2028, sunset February 11 to sunset February 12
- 2029, sunset January 30 to sunset January 31
- 2030, sunset January 18 to sunset January 19