Blossoming almond tree

It’s Tu B’Shvat this weekend, the Jewish holiday that honors the annual rebirth of trees. Its symbol is the almond tree, usually the first fruiting tree to flower. Snowy almond blossoms are breath-taking, whether you spot a single front-yard tree in your neighborhood or an orchard-full.

While most agrarian holidays have to do with planting and harvest cycles of row crops, this one is, forgive me, squarely rooted in an orchard’s well-being.

I love the way this ancient commemoration ties in with our own farmers’ market culture. (See Ecclesiastes 1:9 for life lesson.) As they did then, we mingle the pleasure principle of good food with mindfulness about being stewards of the land. We’re grateful to the farmers who shepherd the trees into successful production, and we anticipate each new turn of a season’s bounty. The holiday even comes with its own seder (!) involving seasonal tree fruits—nuts, avocados, olives, pomegranates, dried summer fruits, citrus—four glasses of white, pink, and red wine to mark the passage of the year, and a vegetarian meal to celebrate the fruits of the earth.

Tu B’Shvat is also known as Israeli Arbor Day—lots of tree-planting and picnics. Our Arbor Day is the last Friday in April (cities and states may have other observance dates). It doesn’t get much play these days, but if you’re of a certain age, you may remember annual, school tree-planting celebrations. I always thought those were about civic pride, not the big picture. But what did I know; I was just a kid in a small universe. Could it always have been about the health of the planet? Is it having enough of a renaissance? Andy Lipkis of TreePeople would know.

Whatever your faith, take a moment to thank the trees for all they do, including replenishing the air we breathe. And then dig into a delicious vegetarian supper.

How and when does your community celebrate trees?