The first was a mid-summer festival in ancient times. People would bring wood to Jerusalem for use on the Temple altar. It was also a day for match-making, when young men and maidens would be encouraged to find partners and proceed to matrimony. Girls who did not come from wealthy homes would wear borrowed attire, in order not to be embarrassed. Tu B’Av fulfilled a useful purpose in those days, but the festival has now fallen by the wayside.
Not so with Tu BiSh’vat. In Israel and the northern hemisphere it is a mid-winter festival, known especially as the New Year for Trees – Rosh HaShanah La’ilanot.
Trees have always been important in Jewish culture. In the physical sense, they are an important feature of God’s creation. The Bible ascribes personality to them and the Book of Judges relates a contest about which tree should rule over the others.
Metaphorically, trees symbolise the quest for knowledge; Torah is a “tree of life”; man’s life is like a tree; the people of Israel are compared to a tree. At times such as mid-winter one might think the trees are bare and lifeless, but it is precisely then that we celebrate Tu BiSh’vat as a mark of confidence that there will be new life, new growth and new achievement.