This Jewish holiday celebrated fifty days after Passover (and thus the Jewish equivalent of Beltane) is also known as the Festival of Weeks, the Festival of Revelation, and the Festival of Harvest. This year it will begin at sunset on the evening of June 11.
In ancient times, two kinds of offerings were made at the Temple: two loaves of bread made from the first harvest of wheat and seven kinds of first fruits: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Later this date was identified as the day God gave the Jews the Torah. Weddings that have been delayed during the Counting of the Omer can be celebrated.
The afternoon before the festival is the time for a ritual bath of total immersion. Sixteenth-century Kabbalists stayed awake all night reading the Torah. They considered this to be the ceremony of bedecking the bride on the night before the Great Wedding of Sinai.
During Shavuot, synagogues are decorated with branches of green leaves and in some places roses are placed on the Torah scroll. Lithuanian Jews created a special art form in connection with Shavuot: papercuts called shavuoslech (little Shavuots) or raizelech (little roses). In his book on Jewish holidays, Seasons of Our Joy, Arthur Waskow speculates that the papercuts were developed to replace the branches and flowers used in pagan (May Day) and Christian (Pentecost) customs.
Dairy foods are customary on this day: cheesecake and blintzes, kugel and cheese. It is also customary to wear white and a wreath of flowers in your hair, which also reminds me of May Day celebrations. Natural perfumer, Ayala Moriel, has written a blog post about seven fragrant white flowers that bloom around Shavuot. Though not traditional, this might inspire some new ways of celebrating this joyful holiday.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”