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ULC Holidays: New Year of the Trees

Universal Life ChurchMany faiths that originally flourished in agricultural societies recognize the importance of being good stewards of the land. This stewardship may be even more important today as we wrestle with issues such as industrial pollution, energy production and climate change. To be ordained as an interfaith minister in the Universal Life Church reflects one’s interest in religious traditions which speak to these trying modern problems.

Judaism, or Jewish faith, celebrates the tradition of land stewardship with the holiday of Tu Bishvat. Similar to the idea of Green Hanukkah, Tu Bishvat is celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish calendar month of Shevat, and the name includes part of the words for the hebrew numbers 9 (te) and 6 (vav) which add up to 15. The 15th of Shevat usually occurs in late January or early February of the Christian Gregorian calendar.

In ancient times Tu Bishvat was on of four “new years” in the Jewish calendar, each marking the start of a different social process. Tu Bishvat was the start of the agricultural year, and as such was especially important for farmers growing fruit trees, because how old your trees were determined how you could harvest them and what kind of religious taxes or tithes you would have to pay on them.

In the 16th century the rabbi Yitzhak Luria and his followers, who were mystics and Kabbalah students living in the town of Safed (also called Zefat, now in northern Israel) practiced a more symbolic ceremony. In their Tu Bishvat seder (special meal) 10 fruits and four wines were eaten and drunk in a specific order along with the appropriate blessings. They believed that doing this would help move people and the material world towards spiritual perfection.

In modern times the holiday has also come to celebrate ecological awareness and the importance of living in harmony with the natural world. Certainly these concepts are in harmony with the key tenets of the ULC, or for an individual that desires to be ordained as an interfaith minister. Members of the Jewish faith began planting trees in the late 19th century in Israel to reflect this interest in the environment and this activity continues in the present day. In fact the symbol of Tu Bishvat is a flowering almond tree, and the holiday is often referred to as the Israeli or Jewish “Arbor Day.”

Of course, any day can be a good day to practice ecological activism and respect for our environment. Many faiths recognize this by celebrating our natural world with religious ceremonies or practical acts, such as seen in the practices of Tu Bishvat.

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