On the eve of the 25th of January 2013, the New Year for Trees will start in the Jewish Tradition. In Hebrew it is called Tu B'Shevat (Too Bishvaht). It marks the change of the direction of the saps of the trees: instead of going towards the roots, it is said that the saps start flowing towards the branches on this day.
The day is named after the Jewish calendar day and month, the 15th day of the month Shevat.
Originally it was a tax related day and it marked the start of the year for the tithes on fruit. Fruit picked before this day were part of the tax of the old year, but anything picked after would be marked as fruit for the new tax year. It was also a day where unmarried men and women met in the fields to court.
Under the influence of the Kabbalists in the 16th century, Tu B'Shevat became more mystical and a special meal was devised to celebrate the fruits of the land. The meal, which is called Tu B'Shevat Seder, is an expression of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The different types of fruit that are eaten and the wine that is drunk are symbolic ways to invoke the Cosmic Blessing and repair the Tree of Life. The meal is still partaken by many Jews in this day and age and it concludes with the beautiful blessing: "May all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the Tree of Life."
In Israel it is now a day for environmental awareness but also a day for new beginnings, such as laying foundation stones for new buildings and planting new trees. Every year, six million trees are planted in commemoration of those who died in the Shoah (Holocaust). As a result, it is often referred to in the media as Israel's Arbour day.
As a Jewish Witch, it is one of the wonderful Jewish festivals that is linked to agriculture and nature in such a way that it seamlessly fits into my Pagan practise. On this day I will eat dried fruits from the last harvest and celebrate the promise of the return of abundance to the land of my ancestors. The image that is traditionally meditated on would fit right into any Pagan circle: "Man is a Tree of the Field".
It has many different interpretations, ranging from the connection of Man with the Earth, to the way we live both a visible external life and a hidden internal life. The text comes from Deuteronomy 20:19, but that simple sentence is just as pertinent today as it was those thousands of years ago when it was first written.
Happy New Year for the Trees!