Most of the world has its own variation of Arbor Day, Judaism included. We celebrate the ultimate in environmentalism with a birthday party for trees every year on the 15th day of the month of Sh’vat, which falls this year on Feb. 4. Known as Tu BiShvat, this lesser-known holiday is a great way to celebrate the wonder and beauty of nature. Traditionally, this is the “other” seder of the year—except that instead of charoset, shank bones and eggs, we celebrate with the “seven species” that filled the land of Israel in Deuteronomy 8:8: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
Aside from the traditional Tu BiShvat seder, here are my suggestions for seven contemporary ways to celebrate the holiday of the seven species:
1. Celebrate the local harvest and have dinner at one of the many great farm-to-table restaurants in town. Try Farmstead Table in Newton, Fairstead Kitchen in Brookline, Henrietta’s Table in Harvard Square or Cutty’s in Brookline. All serve delicious food by chefs who elevate and celebrate fresh, local ingredients.
2. Commune with nature at the Arnold Arboretum, one of the most magnificent arboretums to grace a major city. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and founded in 1872, this is the best spot in the city for a day outdoors. Go with friends or family to enjoy the serenity of this urban arboretum, or listen to this Vox Tablet podcast about Jewish environmental activism as you stroll through the amazing collection of trees and plants.
3. Make a terrarium. These pint-size nature settings made it big on Pinterest last year and are an easy way to add greenery to your windowsill. All you need is a funky container, some plants, dirt and maybe a fun addition or two (see a few options here). If you’re not feeling crafty, the Brookline Booksmith sells an adorable DIY kit that even includes a gnome.
4. Join the JCC for “Swizzle ‘n Sizzle Shabbat” at Hops N Scotch in Brookline on Friday, Feb. 6. The event includes culinary delights and tastings of signature cocktails inspired by Tu BiShvat’s seven species. It’s a modern seder of sorts, plus it’s free!
6. Swap regular honey for “silan,” or date honey. This vegan variation has the rich sweetness of traditional honey with a beautiful date flavor. It’s great in tea and also makes a perfect addition to recipes. Try your favorite Rosh Hashanah recipe using silan instead of honey, or try this mouth-watering honey cake recipe by famous cake diva Rose Levy Beranbaum.
7. Don’t want to host a full Tu BiShvat seder but want to spice up dinner with family or friends? Simplify things by adding a new fruit or two to your dinner menu. Try Wegmans, Russo’s Market or even Chinese and Russian markets, which tend to carry produce you may not normally see. Options include dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, which are common in Asian countries and resemble really meaty kiwi; UGLI tangelos from Jamaica; kiwi berries, which taste like a cross between a kiwi and a grape; rambutan, which is similar to lychee; and my personal favorite, mangosteen, which tastes vaguely like a cross between pomegranate and lychee.