The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat is basically Jewish Arbor Day. I grew up calling it the birthday of the trees. When I was in school, we gave money to organizations to plant trees in Israel, often in memory of loved ones who had died. As an adult, I have come to associate the holiday with the broader themes of saving our planet and environmental justice.
Whether you take the narrow or broad view and whether you are Jewish or not, find a way to celebrate Tu B’Shvat – at least what it stands for even if you don’t call it by its Hebrew name.
Speaking of the Hebrew name for this holiday, Tu B’Shvat is a transliteration. In English, it can also be spelled as Tu Bishvat, Tu B’Shevat, or Tu BiShvat.
On the Jewish calendar, we celebrate Tu B’Shvat on the 15th or (tu) day of the Hebrew month of Shvat. Because the Jewish calendar is lunar-based, while the secular calendar is solar-based, the holiday moves on our secular calendar. This year, it occurs from sundown on Sunday January 16th through sundown the following day
In the “before times”, a group of our friends would celebrate Tu B’Shvat with a seder. We enjoyed the rituals, the wine, and the food. Most importantly, we felt connected to each other and our community through the traditions that brought us together. While I miss our in person gathering this year, I will celebrate Tu B’Shvat with you through this post.
How to Celebrate Tu B’Shvat with a Seder
Like a Passover seder, this one involves four cups of wine, along with traditional foods and prayers. However a Tu B’Shvat seder is not based on a single story. Rather, it is a celebration of God’s many natural gifts, including the fruits and grains that sustain us.
In a Passover seder, the four cups are all traditionally red. But in a Tu B’Shvat seder, the wine goes from all white in the first cup to all red in the fourth. (The red wine is poured into the white to make the second and third cups less, and then more, red.)
The Four Types of Fruits Traditional for Tu B’Shvat
The Tu B’Shvat tradition includes four types of fruits. Like the cups of wine, they follow a pattern.
The first is hard on the outside and soft on the inside, such as nuts. (The nuts below are unshelled, obviously:)
The second fruit is soft with a pit in the center. Think about dates, peaches, plums, and apricots.
The third fruit is completely soft and edible. Figs, raisins, and grapes all fit this bill.
Finally the fourth fruit has a tough skin and a sweet center. It could be a banana, mango, pineapple, pomegranate, or an avocado. And yes, avocados are fruits.
Eating The Seven Species
Finally, there is the tradition of eating the “shevah minim” or seven species during the Tu B’Shvat meal. They are five fruits and two grains that grew in Israel during Biblical times.
The species are:
- olives/olive oil
The tradition is to eat them either in the order above, as they appear in the Bible (Deuteronomy) or in the order of their importance in Israel during Biblical times. In the latter case, the order is 1) wheat, 2) barley, 3) olives/olive oil, 4) dates, 5) grapes/wine, 6) figs and 7) pomegranates.
In case you can’t think of what recipes use one or more of the these species, here are some ideas:
Wheat – a galette or cake, a madeleine or cookies – or how about a walnut encrusted blondie?
Some people also eat other fruits the Bible mentions or which we associate with Israel, such as apples, quinces, walnuts, pistachios, and carob. BTW – When I was in Hebrew School, we called carob St. John’s Bread. Now that seems odd to me, but at the time, I simply accepted that name, never realizing the irony of a Jewish school using what was clearly a Christian name for the fruit.