New Years: Buddhists and Jews restart calendars

SUNSET FRIDAY, JANUARY 25: Jews celebrate the New Year of the Trees, also known as Tu Bishvat.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 27: Buddhists in the main Mahayana movement mark their new year on the first full moon day of January. The Interfaith Observer website explains the holiday this way: This celebration falls on the first full moon day in January for Buddhists who practice in the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) stream. By contrast, in Theravadin countries (Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Laos) the new year is celebrated in April, while Tibetan Buddhists generally celebrate it in March.

“The world’s secular calendar resets on January 1, but there are many other calendars that Americans commonly use: the school calendar, the tax calendar, sports calendars and others. So, we already are familiar with the idea that the world has many different calendars all running and restarting around us,” explains Joe Lewis, the founder of the Singlish Publication Society and the author of books that help people enjoy Jewish holidays even if they are not familiar with Hebrew. “In Judaism, there is more than one calendar and more than one new year’s day, as well. Tu Bishvat is the new year for fruit trees.”

Ancient associations with Tu Bishvat are more complex. (Learn more from Judaism 101.) Most Jews today seize Tu Bishvat (literally “Fifteenth of Shevat”) as a Jewish Arbor Day and celebration of ecological awareness. European Jews feast on dried fruits and nuts, while others eat fruits of the land of Israel, including wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. ( offers tempting recipes, such as Almond Milk Pudding with Pomegranates.) The Jewish National Fund now schedules massive tree-planting events every Tu Bishvat.


When a fire ravaged 6,000 acres of Israel’s Carmel Forest in December 2010, fear loomed that the forest would never reclaim its past glory. Yet even as the trees regenerate naturally and fire prevention awareness spreads, a large-scale effort provided future hope. (Read more at the JTA News Service.) On Jan. 18—just ahead of Tu Bishvat—Israelites came from far and wide to participate in tree planting. The effort was the first of its kind since the fire.

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