starting at sundown tonight, candles will be kindled honouring not only the sabbath but also a special holiday called tu bishvat, ט"ו בשבט, or the new year for trees — a kind of jewish arbor day. the word tu is another way of saying the number 15 and is the combination of two hebrew letters (tet ט) and (vav ו) and the word shvat שבט, the hebrew month we are presently in.
[a]n ancient custom in Israel when a baby was born, the parents planted a tree in its honor. The tree was planted on Tu B'Shvat following the child's birth. If the baby was a boy, a cedar was planted. If the baby was a girl, a cypress was planted. As the children grew so did the trees. When children got married the wood from the trees built their chupah (wedding canopy). As the wood from the two trees were joined in the chupah so were the bride and groom in their marriage.today, many people will plant trees [saplings] in israel to reforest the land either on their own or by proxy through an organization called the the Keren Kayemet, or Jewish National Fund. this, however, takes place all year and is not just done on tu bishvat.
weeks before this holiday, children in jewish schools receive their envelopes to take home so that they can plant trees in areas set up in israel which need planting. this was always an exciting thing, especially waiting for the certificate with your name on it and your tree! israel's keren kayemet actually keeps meticulous records where you can look up where your tree was planted and you can actually go and see for yourself which tree it is (or, at the very least, where it was planted).
trees are usually planted in memory of someone or to commemorate an occasion. this year is especially important as many areas in northern israel were destroyed due to the recent war with lebanon. having your own tree planted is easy and reasonable [18 dollars]. you can do as i do every year and plant your own tree in israel through the internet.
sephardi families sometimes follow a kabalistic tradition of having a seder [ceremonial meal similar to that of passover] to honour tu bishvat, blessing the seven kinds of fruits [& nuts] mentioned in the torah and drinking 4 cups of wine and following a set order of blessings in a hagaddah (book). homes are often filled with flowers and tables are set with greenery.
there are several other customs and foods associated with this holiday such as eating candied citron [etrog] and eating the bean shaped fruit called carob [bokser, חרוב].
commonly eaten are figs, dates, grapes, pomegranate, olives, carob, raisins, dried apricots .......
also enjoyed are all kinds of nuts, especially almonds and pistachios.
there are many recipes for this holiday which use these ingredients. aish also provides you with a few holiday recipes and more information about this beautiful celebration. a few other recipes a this site, too. this side dish incorporates grains [brown rice], fruits and nuts for the celebration dinner.
i even saw a recipe for frozen buckeyes — gee, wonder why this sounds familiar?!? :)
a peaceful sabbath and happy holiday