Celebrating Tu B’Shvat
Tu B’Shvat is a festival that celebrates the new year for trees. It literally translates as 15th of Shevat (which is a month in the Jewish calendar), which is the day that Tu B’Shvat is celebrated each year.
There are several ways you can acknowledge this festival. Many people enjoy the custom of eating seasonal fresh fruit (such as grapes, figs and pomegranates), but other popular foods around this time are olives, dates and recipes using wheat and barley.
When we eat the fruit, it is customary to say a blessing. The specific blessing can vary depending on the type of fruit you are eating. For more information on specific customs and blessings to say during Tu B’Shvat (as well as general background information), you can find out more on 15 Shevat Info on Chabad.org or read about Tu B’Shevat 101 on My Jewish Learning.
One way to mark the occasion of Tu B’Shvat is to plant a tree. There are lots of organisations that support this activity, which is a great way of quite literally celebrating trees!
Plant a tree
Here are some of the organisations that could help you get involved in planting a tree:
Plant trees in Israel (JNF): This organisation has a wonderful programme which allows people to purchase a tree online and then have the tree planted in Israel where it is most needed (like to provide shade in a school playground, fill parks or even line streets). It is your opportunity to support Israel in the most organic of ways.
The Tree Council: As "the UK's lead charity for trees", the Tree Council supports and protects trees across the country. Although not a Jewish charity, they would still be able to assist you in finding ways to plant a tree in your area or even get involved in a tree-planting scheme local to you.
Woodland Trust. This respected organisation works hard to protect woodlands across the UK. They are currently running a project “to plant 64 million trees” over the next 10 years. If you would like to take part, you can request an application form and contribute to the project by planting some trees in your local area. NOTE: This specific project is encouraged as something to participate in as part of a community, rather than on an individual level. If you are interested, it may be worthwhile to speak with your local synagogue or community centre to see if they might be willing to help you to join in as part of a larger community project that they may be able to run on your behalf.
It’s also worth contacting your local synagogue or Jewish community centre to see what activities they might hold during Tu B’Shvat. Sometimes they organise a tree planting ceremony on the site of the synagogue or even something on a larger scale, so it’s a good idea to ask whether they have anything planned.
Of course, you can always buy a tree from your local garden centre and plant it in your garden (if you have space), in a pot in your home or on a balcony. Take care to ensure you find out exactly what the job requires in order for you to complete it properly, and research how to look after the tree once it has been planted. Take a look at our article on Gardening to help you get started.
Plant on a smaller scale
If you don’t fancy planting a tree but like the idea of making a gesture towards the festival of Tu B’Shvat, you can do this by planting something symbolic that also grows from a seed. There's a fun activity you can do to celebrate Tu B'Shvat: grow your own mustard and cress garden!
You can also plant other herbs, such as parsley or rosemary, which are very easy to grow. If you don’t have a garden, they’re great plants to grow inside and will thrive on a kitchen counter or windowsill. For more inspiration, take a look at our article on Growing a herb garden at home.
If you’re interested in using your herbs (or you just like to cook), there are some exciting online food enthusiasts who have blogs inspired by the festival of Tu B’Shvat. They've created delicious recipes using foods specifically centred around this holiday.
- Blogger Tori Avey gives a general overview of the holiday in her post, What is Tu B'Shvat?, but then she also includes some tasty recipes like apple and date tarts and roasted figs with goat’s cheese. It’ll be difficult not to find something to tickle your taste buds here.
- The Ultimate Nosher has the secret to the Ultimate Babka for Tu B’Shevat. This particular recipe is packed with figs and dates, making it perfect for a teatime treat, a dessert…or even an indulgent breakfast!
And don’t forget to check out the healthier traditional recipes right here on Jewish Care Interact. Try having a go at something like tabbouleh salad topped with pomegranate seeds or chicken stew with mixed dried fruit.
Spirituality of Tu B’Shvat
As well as taking time to plant trees and enjoy the sweet flavours of seasonal fruit, it’s important to remember that Tu B’Shvat has a spiritual meaning too.
The notion of planting can be associated with personal growth in terms of the metaphorical tree that grows inside everyone. This symbolic tree needs to be nurtured and encouraged to flourish. How to Plant a Tree on Chabad.org describes this spiritual side to Tu B’Shvat in detail.
If you’d like to know more about this holiday and learn about some more of the customs associated with celebrating it, there are several websites you can look at that offer helpful information.
- Aish.com has a lovely collection of interesting online articles looking at Tu B’Shvat from a range of different perspectives, such as why it is celebrated in the middle of winter, and some inspiration on how to look at the spiritual side of the holiday.
- My Jewish Learning offers a detailed article on how to lead a Tu B’Shvat Seder, which is a ceremonial dinner involving blessings, hand washing, wine and plenty of fruit.
Chag Sameach, and enjoy the celebration of trees!