The first time I mentioned having a Tu Bishvat feast to my husband, he looked at me with a blank stare and muttered something along the lines of “What’s a Tu Bishvat?” Once I explained what the holiday entailed, he did a bit of eye rolling (“You mean there’s yet another holiday I haven’t heard of?”) before getting on board. And now, Tu Bishvat is something we look forward to every year.
Of course, Tu Bishvat doesn’t have the popularity of Passover or the significance of Yom Kippur. Rather, it’s a day that symbolizes the new year for trees. Growing up, I have distinct memories of celebrating Tu Bishvat at home, from eating dried fruit for dessert to donating money to plant new trees in Israel. My parents always talked up the holiday, even though they really didn’t have to–after all, I went to a Jewish school, and when I was younger, the holiday was certainly worked into the curriculum.
But now that I’m a parent, it’s important to me that we celebrate Tu Bishvat for a couple of distinct reasons.
First, Tu Bishvat bridges the gap between Hanukkah and Purim, which helps keep our 3-year-old son engaged Jewishly. While he now goes to a Jewish preschool and we do have a weekly Shabbat routine, over the past year, it’s the holidays that I think have appealed to my son the most. He got a kick out of Passover, enjoyed Rosh Hashanah, and, most recently, was thrilled to discover the many treats and indulgences associated with Hanukkah. And while he enjoys our Shabbat rituals, Tu Bishvat is something new to get him excited about.
Secondly, Tu Bishvat is a positive holiday free of restrictions. There’s no fasting, no temple-going (not that attending holiday services is a bad thing, but it’s not always easy or convenient with small children)–just the encouragement to talk up tree appreciation and sample new fruits or foods. For some, that means hosting a blown-out Tu Bishvat seder, or feast. In our house, it usually means having a fun, festive meal–usually just as a family, though when it works out, we’ll invite a few others to join us.
Because my son is a little older this year, we’re planning to spend some time that day reading books about trees and discussing the many benefits they offer. We’ll perhaps do a tree-related craft if I can find one that’s easy to pull off. And while we probably won’t be able to spend much time outdoors looking at trees (what with the holiday falling out smack in the middle of winter), we can always opt to look at pictures from some of our recent fall foliage hikes, where the trees look downright spectacular.
I’m grateful for the fact that Tu Bishvat pops up during what would otherwise be a long, wintery, holiday-free stretch. Even though it’s an easy enough holiday to forget about or neglect, it most definitely has a very special place in our household.
Tu Bishvat begins at sundown on Feb. 3.