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Celebrating the New Year for Trees

Updated: Feb 2

Guest Blog by Ilana Rubin

fig tree in winter against a blue sky

Last week, I celebrated an old holiday anew: Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees! Tu B’Shvat offers rich layers of meaning to explore. This year, I dove deeper into the holiday to start building my own Tu B’Shvat practices for growth, nourishment, and celebration in the midst of winter.

So, what is Tu B'Shvat all about? This Jewish holiday is rooted in counting the age of fruit trees for harvesting and tithing. Later, but still hundreds of years ago, Jewish Kabbalists developed a Tu B’Shvat seder – a ritual feast full of symbolism and sacred foods. More recently, Jewish communities and individuals may celebrate Tu B’Shvat with revived versions of this seder or with tree planting, environmental action, and more.

bowls of fruits and nuts and a glass of white wine

Layer upon layer of meaning can be woven into a Tu B'Shvat seder, and there are many versions of the seder as a result. The symbolic layers can include, but are not limited to, glasses of juice or wine that represent seasons and specific foods that connect to values and symbolic spiritual worlds. The making of meaning can go as deep as one is open to learning and exploring.

This year, I did not have a typical seder. Instead of a ritual feast with a group around a table, I celebrated with a feast of mindful personal experiences with nature, symbolic spiritual worlds, the four elements, and sacred foods:

  • The world of Assiyah – action and doing – is symbolized by fruit with an inedible outside and an edible inside (ex. pomegranates or citrus). Weaving in the element of earth, I fed my compost worms food scraps to enrich the soil in the spring. Later, I carefully opened a pomegranate – a majestic fruit that I find almost magical. I savored the taste of the gems inside and saved several seeds to grow.

  • The world of Yetzirah – formation, emotion, and heart – is symbolized by fruit with an edible outside and inedible inside (ex. olives or dates). After standing outside in a light drizzle, welcoming the element of water, I shared the sweetness of dates – a fruit connected with inclusiveness, and everyone having a role – with my beloved.

  • The world of Briyah – creation, thought, knowing, and intellect – is symbolized by a wholly edible fruit (ex. figs or grapes). I welcomed mind-stirring learning by reading poems, meditations, and articles about Tu B'Shvat. Holding these lessons, I pruned my twelve-year-old fig tree and one of her kin. I cut carefully and bravely for the sake of the trees' vitality and planted the cuttings to grow into their own beings over time. Later, I sipped sparkling grape juice – the juice of a fruit symbolizing beauty, as well as diversity and balance – while appreciating the element of air revealed in the sparkles of carbonation.

purple crocus blooming
  • The world of Atzilut – emanation, spirit, and essence – is symbolized by spiritual sustenance or aromatics (ex. cinnamon or cloves). On a wander outside, I was surprised and delighted at seeing the first purple crocus flower of the year and felt my soul alight with its saffron-like scent. Later, bringing in the element of fire, I lit a candle that smelled of bayberry and welcomed its warmth.

For me, Tu B’Shvat offers us an invitation to find inspiration in how trees grow. We can draw deeply from ancient roots and community. As we grow, we can let go of what doesn’t help us reach the light – to let go of whatever keeps us from thriving in a time of still long nights. This invitation is not just for those who celebrate the Jewish New Year for Trees. It can be an invitation for all of us to learn from the ancient wisdom of trees on our journeys to find spiritual practices that nourish our growth.

About the Author:

Ilana Rubin is a certified forest bathing guide passionate about reconnecting people with nature and community. The founder of Kindred Nature, she is also a permaculture and ecological design enthusiast, a forest gardener, a naturalist, and a forager.


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Photo Credits:

Main Photo by temmuzcan from Getty Images Signature

Additional Photos by Ilana Rubin

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