Around our precious planet, our ancestors were tied to the cycles of Mama Earth, essential for those who depended on the land for food, shelter and sustenance. These cycles were celebrated through rituals and festivals, and evolved over time as their culture changed too. Many of these celebrations of our pagan and earth-conscious ancestors found their way into the world’s major religions, and still reveal the evidence those pagan or earth-based roots in their timing, practices and rituals.
For instance, this week we are approaching Imbolg, traditionally celebrated on February 1st or 2nd, honouring the goddess Brighid and Early Spring. But this is also now a Christian holiday (Candlemas, revealing its connection to the flames of Brighid, and Saint Brigid’s Day) and Groundhog Day, connecting us to the rhythm of the approaching spring.
And today is a special day in Judaism: the celebration of New Year for Trees, Tu B’Shevat aka Tu BiShvat (the 15th day of the month Shevat). It is also known as Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot. The Hebrew calendar is lunisolar, so the dates shift in relationship to our western Gregorian Calendar. This year Tu B’Shevat began at sunset last night, January 27th, and continues through to sunset tonight, January 28th. In 2022, Tu B’Shevat is celebrated a couple of weeks earlier, arriving sunset Sunday, January 16th and ending at sunset Monday, January 17.
Tu B’Shevat 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. Here in my locale, I can already see some evidence of a spring awakening . . . catkins on the hazel trees, blossoms on the witch hazel trees, the beginnings of new growth on the tips of the evergreens.
On Tu B’Shevat, the tradition was — and is — to honour those trees with a blessing and by enjoying the biblical ”seven spices” seder 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!
In contemporary times, Tu B’Shevat is celebrated as an “Earth Day”, by planting trees, and as an ecological awareness day for the trees and their importance in our world. They 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 a celebration from my ancestral roots, the Celtic festival of Imbolg aka Imbolc, honouring the first/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 Spring (or seasonal shifts) in your locale. If your local trees are not yet manifesting signs of their spring awakening — rising of the sap, leaf buds, new needle tips on the evergreens, etc — consider creating your own “New Year for Trees” when they do.