The Jewish festival of Tu B'Shevat: the festival of the New Year for Trees
To learn about the festival of Tu B’Shevat, to look forward to spring, to celebrate the importance of trees and to give thanks for the fruits of the earth.
by Caroline Donne
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar.
- To learn about the festival of Tu B’Shevat.
- To look forward to spring.
- To celebrate the importance of trees.
- To give thanks for the fruits of the earth.
Tu B’Shevat is a minor Jewish festival. It means the fifteenth (Tu) day of Shevat (the eleventh month of the Jewish calendar). It was an important date in biblical times for calculating the age of trees and the time for tithing their fruit. In the Bible (Leviticus 19.23–25), it was commanded that when the Israelites came to the Promised Land and planted trees, the fruit from the trees should not be eaten for the first three years of the trees’ growth. In the fourth year the fruit was to be set aside for God and in the fifth year they could eat the fruit.
Preparation and materials
- Pictures of trees (ideally an olive tree or a fig tree)
- All or any of the following: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey
- Talk about the two types of trees, deciduous and coniferous. What do the deciduous trees look like at this time of year? You can easily see their branches because there are no leaves. But even though the trees look bare and dead on the outside, inside their branches and inside their roots below ground there is lots happening. The roots are gathering nourishment from the ground. This will feed the trees so that when the spring comes blossom will appear, and then leaves, and seeds (or fruit) will follow.
Explain that at this time of year many Jewish people celebrate a festival connected with trees. It’s called Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees.
- Explain that many thousands of years ago the ancestors of the Jewish people were looking for a new land to live in after escaping from slavery. They believed that God had promised the land to them. As they travelled towards the Promised Land they were given rules about how they would live when they got there. Trees would be very important in that land, as they are for all of us today. Go on to invite suggestions of why trees are important (e.g. they provide shelter, they provide food to eat, they make the oxygen in the air that we need to breathe).
The Jewish people were given a rule about trees. In the first three years of a tree’s life they should leave it to grow without taking any of the fruit that might grow on it. In the fourth year of the tree’s life they could pick the fruit and set it aside to give thanks to God for looking after them. In the fifth year of the tree’s life they could pick the fruit of the tree and eat it.
Then the cycle would begin again.
Many years later, the festival of Tu B’Shevat developed. It was a time when Jewish people calculated how old the trees were and whether they should leave them to grow without picking the fruit (first three years), or whether it was the year to give the fruit to God (fourth year), or whether it was the year they could pick and eat the fruit themselves (fifth year). It was also a time to remember that the cold days of winter were coming to an end and that soon warmer weather would arrive and the trees would be covered with blossom. It was a hopeful time.
Today, in Israel where many Jewish people live, they celebrate the festival of Tu B’Shevat by planting new trees and saplings. Show pictures of the olive or fig trees, and explain that these are two of the trees mentioned in the Bible that grow in Israel today.
Jewish people living outside Israel celebrate the festival by eating food that grows there: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey. They remember that thousands of years ago God promised their ancestors that they would find this same food growing in their new land (see Deuteronomy 8.8–9). They give thanks to God for looking after them.
Focus on the themes
Think about the importance of trees, perhaps focusing on their vital roles in producing oxygen and in providing habitats.
Time for reflection
Introduce a time of quiet and invite the students to think about what they have heard. Suggest that they may like to use the following words to help them to think or to pray.
God of the earth,
Thank you for the beautiful world you have made.
Thank you for trees.
Thank you for the fruit that grows on them,
and for the great forests of the world that provide oxygen for us to breathe.
Thank you for the rich habitats provided by trees and the diversity of creatures they support.
Help us to take care of the trees around us.