Some holidays, like fine wine, seem to improve with age: the more I celebrate them, the more meaning I find in the customs and rituals, as the older and (I hope) wiser me finds different ways to relate to the same events.
Then there are those holidays that loom large in childhood, but fade in importance over time. It's not that I don’t care about them; I just don’t have school projects and assemblies to remind me of a holiday’s imminent arrival, so it’s not until my niece or nephew brings home flowers made of fruit leather that the bell chimes in my head and I find myself saying, “Hmm, Tu B’Shevat again? Where does the time go?”
When I was growing up, Tu B’Shevat was a day I looked forward to, if for no other reason than that it meant snack bags of exotic fruits like carob and figs. I vaguely understood that it was a new year for the trees and had something to do with nature, but I didn’t really dig too deep into the meaning of the day. All I knew was that it was a time to indulge in rare fruit, and I was more than happy to oblige.
As I got older, those school-issued bags of fruit disappeared, taking my observance of Tu B’Shevat with them. The end of snack bags was probably a good thing (carob can be very hard on the teeth), but saying goodbye to Tu B’Shevat was a sad casualty of growing up. It’s a strange irony that a day that celebrates nature and the lovely world G‑d created should be so prominent in childhood and so overlooked in our older years. After all, I think it may be the grownups who really need to take a moment to appreciate the splendor of this intricate and varied universe we live in.
Children already have an innate sense of wonder when it comes to nature. They see beauty, mystery, even spirituality in the little things that adults often write off as uninteresting or insignificant. I remember how as a kid I used to gather bouquets of dandelions to give my mother, who always accepted them with a bemused smile. It didn’t matter to me that they were weeds; everything that grew from the ground—the leaves, the trees, the poisonous mushrooms—seemed beautiful and kind of miraculous. Even the smell of skunks appealed to me in an intriguing, so-bad-it’s-good kind of way.
Nature is also what led me to a real belief in G‑d. Granted, the concept of one G‑d had been drilled into my head from before I could remember, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in class in elementary school one day that I actually felt His presence. I had been thinking about the origins of everything around me, from the desk I was sitting on to the clothes I was wearing. I could trace everything back to nature, but I hit a brick wall at when I tried to figure out who planted the first seed. And that was when I realized that there was some higher being who set everything in motion, who created this gloriously diverse universe with millions of different species and subspecies, all working together to form a kind of kaleidoscope of life.
Now I’m older, and I’ve learned much more complex arguments and “proofs” for monotheism. I’ve also learned that a dandelion is just something that needs to be uprooted to make way for the “real” flowers, and that a skunk’s odor is to be feared rather than embraced. But I miss the simple faith in G‑d I discovered as a child, and the love I had for His world.
So I think it’s time for the adults to take back Tu B’Shevat. Well, we don’t have to take it, exactly. We can share it with the kids. But the point is, nature is not something we grownups should take for granted just because we’re busy people who don’t have time to play in the mud anymore. At the heart of Tu B’Shevat is a celebration of the world in all its glory and complexity, and a holiday like that has no age limit. Just think: we could be living in one of those futuristic science-fiction universes where everyone dresses in the same space-age suit and the architecture is all uniform and austere. Instead, G‑d in His infinite kindness gave us a smorgasbord of tastes, sights and smells to appreciate and enjoy.
This Tu B’Shevat, let’s linger a little longer over a sunset, or bite into an apple with renewed gusto. When the snow starts to fall, don’t mutter dejectedly about how it will delay your commute to work. Instead, take a moment to revel in how that blanket of white fluff sparkles in the sun. Think back to the time when a snowstorm was a cause for joyous celebration, because it meant sledding and hot cocoa and days off from school.
For my part, I will hang out in the suburbs, breathing in the fresh aroma of skunks on the prowl.