The holiday of Tu Bishvat, a.k.a. the birthday of the trees, takes place in (very) early spring. Tu Bishvat is a field day for all environmentally-conscious families: an ideal ground from which to explore, celebrate and protect all things ecological. Kabbalists gave it a 15-course fruit seder of its own back in the 16th century, which is still observed in some fashion today.
No time for a seder? That’s okay: it’s kosher to observe the holiday with just one, single fruit: one tree fruit not yet consumed since Rosh Hashanah, upon which we say the blessing for fruit from trees and shehecheyanu. Family-friendly recipes, crafts, and activities abound online, but if you are keen to embellish tradition with something that’s just plain fun, and also pretty sweet, there’s always candy!
Okay, so it’s not exactly nutritious or environmental, but it’s thematic and unforgettable.
What to Get at the Candy Store:
Run out to the candy store and look for Fruit Shakers (buy them here): fruit-shaped gumballs about an inch in diameter. They make lemon, orange, apple (your proper tree fruits) and a watermelon, grape, and strawberry (fruits not so much tree-related, but yummy). The brilliant thing about this particular brand is that they are full of fake seeds. Shake them and they rattle. Bite them open and seeds spill into your hand. Little, candy seeds!
Go for total candy overload and actually “plant” the seeds in Edible Dirt. Edible Dirt is a classic snacktivity: crushed chocolate cookies heaped in a clean, mini flowerpot. If your kid makes the dirt, so much the better: kitchen skills get a bit of play, and he or she will see first-hand that this dirt is fake.
Let your kids put Oreos—minus the filling—in a sealable plastic bag and then smash with the bottom or side of a sturdy plastic tumbler. They can spoon the dirt over a layer of pudding, ice cream, or dairy topping if you wish. Add a gummy worm half in, half out of the pot. Perfect. (Or disgusting, depending on the age of the person you ask.)
Can’t find the seeded gumballs? Use sprinkles, which incidentally are made from trees (carnuba wax comes from palms). Concerned about nutrition? If the cups are small, kids aren’t really eating that much sugar. And who says the dirt must be made from Oreos? Substitute graham crackers. Crunchy parents can use organic, fruit-sweetened, gluten-free, homemade cookie crumbs. Or pulverized nuts, which are tree fruits and therefore appropriate.
Not quite as fun, but still cute are the smaller fruit candies like Runts (not kosher) and Nitwitz (kosher). They make superb decorations atop frosted cupcakes and muffins, and can fill teeny holiday platters for Playmobil parties, American Girl get-togethers, action figure tableaux, and the elaborate Tu Bishvat seder Tefillin Barbie will most certainly host.
Of course, none of these fake fruit ideas make a bit of sense if your kids haven’t seen the real stuff for the real holiday. And make sure they have planted an actual seed in genuine dirt before you go planting candy versions. Abstract representations are fun enrichment tangents that are meant to, well, enrich. They are not intended to replace the really real stuff, but to just make it sweeter. And sweetening a Jewish holiday for kids always makes good sense.