Groundhogs, Saints, and Trees

The past few weeks have seen a turn of the wheel of the year. Many of us are still experiencing the depths of winter, but the earth is beginning to stir beneath the snow and frozen ground. 

This weekend saw the celebrations of Imbolc, St. Bridgid’s Day, and Groundhog Day. Each of these are different (yet related!) celebrations of the coming of spring. A few weeks ago in January, the Jewish celebration of Tu B’Shevat celebrated the same  thing. 

Tu B’Shveat, or the New Year of the Trees, falls on a different day of the Gregorian calendar each year. The name literally translates to the fifteenth of Shevat, which is the Hebrew day it falls on each year. This year (2019), the holiday was on January 20/21 and in 2020, it will be on February 9/10. 
In biblical times, Tu B’Shevat was a date on the calendar which marked the time when farmers were to take their fruit offerings to the temple in the fourth year after planting. In the 16th century, Kabbalists created a seder (festive meal followed in a certain order) to instruct followers about the meaning of the Tree of Life and the relationship between humans and the Ein Sof. During the rise of Zionism and the birth of the state of Israel, Tu B’Shevat became a time to plant trees in order to build the nation. Today, it is celebrated with seders and tree planting. Those of us who live in areas experiencing harsh winters can still celebrate by planting a tree inside and transplanting it later. 

No matter what spiritual tradition you follow, this time of year marks a turning. It is still winter, but late January and early February marks the midway point between Winter and Spring. Sap starts to rise in trees, the earliest flowers start to bloom. There is a general hope and promise of re-birth in the air. May the remaining days of winter pass quickly!

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