I love how so many cultures celebrate Spring and New Year in their religious and spiritual holidays. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and who follow the Wheel of the Year, will be celebrating Imbolc around February 1st. This holiday marked the first of three Spring celebrations in the Celtic Wheel of the Year: Imbolc, March Equinox aka Ostara, and Bealtainne (which strictly speaking is the first day of Summer).
Our Western calendars mark March 21st, the Spring Equinox, as the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere (the beginning of Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere).
But our pagan and earth-conscious ancestors recognized different stages of spring and, in some cultures, used those to mark the new year: the rising of sap in the trees, 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, 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, Judaism celebrates New Year for Trees, Tu B’Shevat (the 15th day of the month Shevat). It is also known as Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot. The Hebrew calendar is lunisolar, so the dates shift in relationship to our western Gregorian Calendar. In 2019, Tu B’Shevat falls begins at sunset January 21st and ends at sunset January 22nd.
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.
On Tu B’Shevat, the tradition was — and still is — to honour the trees with a blessing and by enjoying the biblical ”seven spices” which included wheat and barley, and the fruits of the trees: olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates. I will definitely have some of those on Tu B’Shevat!
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: Trees 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! And do raise your awareness to the signs of Spring (or seasonal shifts) in your locale.
In your locale, it may not feel like the “New Year for the Trees” at all. Perhaps the trees are deeply encased in ice and snow. Perhaps you are in a tropical area where the seasonal shifts are less apparent. Or perhaps you are in the Southern Hemisphere, where Spring happened many months ago and you are experiencing the start of Autumn. And that’s okay . . . celebrate New Year for the Trees when it is right for you.
I believe that events in the Wheel of the Year from all cultures can be celebrated in both secular and spiritual ways. If this celebration resonates with you — but the timing isn’t aligned with your environment or locale — revisit this post when the timing is right for you.