Tu Bishvat (Hebrew: ט״ו בשבט) is a minor Jewish holiday, usually occurring in late January or early February, that marks the "New Year of the Trees." Tu Bishvat is one of four "New Years" mentioned in the Mishnah. Customs include planting trees and eating dried fruits and nuts. In Israel, the flowering of the almond tree, which grows wild around the country, coincides with Tu Bishvat.
Reminds me a little of the Egyptian spring holiday Sham ennissim ("Sniff the breeze"), which comes a bit later in spring. Does this mean that Tu Bishvat is the holiday of optimists, ushering in spring in mid-January?
Thanks to American Sephardic scholar (Brandeis University) and musician Vanessa Paloma (check out her blog for videos of performances), we were invited last night to a celebration of Tu Bishvat at the home of a member of Tangier's Jewish community. Though the food and company were much appreciated, it was Vanessa's solo performance, voice and medieval harp, which was the real treat.
These songs from the diaspora, harking back to the days of Andalusian Spain, before Jews and Muslims (as well as converts to Christianity), were summarily expelled, are a pleasure even for those who don't speak Spanish, Ladino, or its northern Moroccan version called Haketia. They can be highly evocative of longing and loss, but yesterday's selection was roundly joyous, mostly songs of love and marriage. Appropriate to the Tu Bishvat theme of spring, of renewal.
To people who cherish the sight of Jews, Muslims, and Christians sitting around and having a good time, last night was an even greater treat. Perhaps reminisicent of the best days of Andalusia, renowned for its tolerance and cultural flowering.
Tangier is a place where this kind of easygoing mingling is still possible. So to all those who celebrate "the New Year of the Trees," happy Tu Bishvat!