I love how so many cultures celebrate the Spring and New Year in their religious and spiritual holidays.
Our Western calendars mark March 21st – the Spring Equinox – as the start of Spring in the northern hemisphere (and Autumn below the Equator). But our pagan and earth-conscious ancestors recognized different stages of spring and, in some cultures, used those to mark the new year: the running of sap, new growth in leaves and buds, birthing of lambs and other livestock (and the emergence of their mother’s milk), and the cycles of the Moon (such as Chinese New Year).
Our ancestors were tied to the cycles of the earth, in ways many of us have lost, but were essential for those who depended on the land for food, shelter and sustenance.
Many of the early rituals and festivals of our pagan and earth-conscious ancestors have found their way into the world’s major religions, and many contemporary holidays show evidence of those pagan or earth-based roots in their timing, practices and rituals.
For instance, in Judaism, today marks the New Year for Trees, Tu B’Shevat (the 15th day of the month Shevat). This date honoured the start of Spring, when the earliest-blooming trees in Israel would awaken from their winter dormancy and begin a new cycle of growth and fruit bearing. On this day, the tradition is to honour those trees with a blessing and by enjoying their fruits – olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates.
In contemporary times, the day is celebrated by planting trees, and as an ecological awareness day for the trees and their importance in our world. They are a source of oxygen and a source of food. They provide shade on a hot sunny day. They provide homes to creatures of the air and land, to insects, and other plants. They anchor the soil, and so much more.
In many ways, this festival is thematically similar to the Celtic festival of Imbolc, honouring the “first” spring of the year and, no surprise, with roughly the same timing!
Let us celebrate and honour the Trees around us, and their New Year! I will definitely have some of those fruits today!