Tonight marks the first of eight nights of the festival of Chanukah for the Jewish calendar year, 5768. I have heard several Jewish friends remark that Chanukah is “so early” this year. No, it is at exactly the same time as it always is: the 25th of Kislev. Of course, what these people mean is that it is early relative to the 25th of December on Pope Gregory’s calendar.
So, why are the two calendars so much out of alignment this year? It is because the Jewish calendar is lunar first, and solar only secondarily.1 The Gregorian calendar always ensures that Christmas Day, the 25th of December, will fall a few days after the winter solstice. That makes sense at some level, because when the Church, in the fourth century, set the holy day commemorating the birth of Jesus to this time of year, it was to graft Christianity’s celebration of the birth of its Messiah onto the existing winter season celebrations already practiced in the Roman Empire (Saturanalia) and elsewhere in Europe (various winterfest or Yule celebrations).
Chanukah, on the other hand, is the festival of lights. Commemorating the rededication of the ancient Temple after the successful Macabean revolt against assimilationist tendencies that nearly wiped out Judaism (more than a century before Jesus), it symbolically brings light to the darkest time of year, in memory of a dark period in ancient Jewish history.
The “problem,” if the non-coincidence of Christmas and Chanukah can be described as such, is that the sun and moon cycles do not align the same way year after year (though they come back in alignment every 19 years). If Chanukah is to be about bringing light at the darkest time of year, then it really needs to be at the darkest time of year. In terms of the sun, the winter solstice is indeed the darkest time of the year–the day with the shortest daylight. The farther north you go (within the northern hemisphere), the more the sun would be your dominant influence on the perception of overall darkness. However, a bit farther south–say around Jerusalem2–the differences between seasonal day lengths are less dramatic. Not insignificant, of course. Tonight Jerusalem will have about 13 hours, 48 minutes between sunset and sunrise, and about 13:56 on the winter solstice, compared with 9:47 on the summer solstice. But that is far less stark than locations farther north–for instance, in London, near the site of ancient sun-cycle festivals at Stonehenge the gap between sunset and sunrise at the winter solstice is about 16 hours, 11 minutes, compared to 7:42 at the summer solstice. Of course, the farther towards the poles one goes, the more significant this seasonal difference becomes.
In the Land of Israel, then, it is not surprising, perhaps, that our ancient spiritual ancestors would have been just as concerned with moon cycles as sun. It was a newly settled agricultural society, struggling to wean its citizens off pagan worship of separate gods of sun, moon, rain, wind, and so on. It needed a way to tie the natural cycles of such concern to agriculture to a single Source governing all these elements. Thus nearly all of our holidays are timed to the new or full moon at some important point in the agricultural calendar. So Rosh haShanah is the new moon following the autumnal equinox, and marks the beginning of the High Holy Days, which culminate with the fall harvest festival of Sukkot, the first night of which is the full moon. Pesach is the full moon following the vernal equinox, after which we count the omer leading up to the early-summer (or late spring) first harvest festival, Shavuot.
What has all this to do with Chanukah being now, instead of closer to the solstice (and hence also to Christmas)? The full moon (of the month of Tevet) will coincide this year with the night of the 23rd of December, meaning the moon will be almost full around the winter solstice. Thus while the sunset indeed would be early, if the night is clear, it will be very bright. Christmas Eve will be a bright, moonlit night this year–which seemingly would make it hard for the Wise Men to see the star that guided them to Bethlehem (though that means the night sky will be darkening as the moon will have passed its third-quarter phase before the 12th night).
Our lighting of candles for Chanukah begins–every year–five nights before the new moon (of the Jewish month of Tevet) and ends on the second night following that new moon. This will always be the darkest moon phase closest to the shortest day of the year. We begin lighting candles, adding one more each night, just as the sun and moon together are making the nights longer and darker. As we finish the 8th evening, and gaze upon our beautiful fully lit chanukiah (the special menorah for this holiday), we are completing the festival just as the nights are getting brighter. Alas, the days, this year, will continue to get a bit shorter for just over a week after the end of Chanukah, and this fact is one of the signals that this year, 5768, must be a leap year: There will be two months of Adar–the month right before Nisan, when we have Pesach–in order to bring the sun and moon cycles of the Jewish calendar back in synch.
Thus next year, Chanukah will be back to coincide with the winter solstice and hence Christmas. In fact, the first night of Chanukah in 5769 will be at sundown on 21 December, thus right at the winter solstice. And thus Christmas Eve will be the night of the fourth of the eight candles in the chanukiah, and a very dark evening indeed (but for our candles and the star in the retelling of the original Christmas story).
I know some American Jews lament years in which Chanukah comes “early.” Maybe I do, too, as it means I don’t have the days off and it is hard for the family to be together at sundown for the lighting of the candles, given the academic calendar’s being fixed to the Gregorian. However, on religious-cultural grounds, I rather like it when it stands alone. Because as a holiday, Chanukah really does stand alone, as an opportunity to bring light literally and figuratively into a too-dark world, as a celebration of the always relevant struggle for religious and cultural autonomy, and as a commemoration of events without which there would never have been a Christmas at which to celebrate the promise of peace and brotherhood that still remains far too elusive.
So, I call upon my Jewish friends: Next time someone laments that Chanukah is “so early” this year, remind them that, no, it is Christmas that comes late!
Please also see last year’s Chanukah planting, which went into some more detail on the agricultural/seasonal connections of the holiday, and marked the first of a four-season series on these themes.
Actually, the new moon should have been last night, but I did not have a view of the sky then.
This is a welcome sight, Cheshvan having been a month to forget. Kislev’s new moon is a harbinger of the darkest time of year coming soon. But I trust it will be dark only in the sense of shortened daylight. Otherwise, things are looking brighter.
It is nice to have the sky more or less normal again. First the fires and their smoky aftermath, then several days of the heaviest gloom I can recall ever having in late autumn. Now, clear skies again! If only we could get some rain…
Only a few deciduous trees in this Mediterranean climate show good fall foliage color, and those that do often don’t show it till late October or into November. So, around these parts, “fall color” means the ripening of the persimmons.
The tree in front is the ‘Coffeecake’ (a.k.a. ‘Nishimura Wase’), always the first to ripen here. It has its color, but it will be several days before the first fruit is edible. Other persimmons stand uphill from it, with fruit that will ripen in the coming month.
Above the persimmons, at around 0900 local time, the moon is visible, at just about halfway between its full and third-quarter phases. Just as it should be, with today being the fourth day of Sukkot. (It is good to know some things remain in alignment!) This is the waning harvest moon, and persimmons are always one of the main harbingers that the late fall harvest season is coming.
According to various astronomical, arboreal, and climatic indicators, it seems fall is here. The trees of the corralito are still growing somewhat, but they are clearly slowing down and getting ready for winer dormancy. Other than apples and pears–and the amazingly late and delicious ‘Emerald Beaut’ plum–all the deciduous trees at this lowest and coldest (on winter nights) part of the finca are done bearing their crops. The fruit harvest for the year has been mostly ingathered!
This photo it taken from approximately the same vantage point as the previous seasonal views, though I had to alter the angle a bit because, with a full season’s worth of growth, the trees are a much taller and fuller than at any of the other seasonal markers. (It is hard to believe that nearly all the trees in this hedgerow are on “semi-dwarf” rootstocks; size control is about pruning as much as it is about rootstock, and clearly I did not keep up with my summer pruning as well this year as I should have.)
Like the other photos in this series, it shows the extent of the shadow of the nearby grapefruit trees. It should be pretty much the same as at the vernal equinox, of course, and the shadow will cover much of the hedgerow at the winter solstice–thereby helping maximize (or “cheat on“) chill–whereas in midsummer, the trees are almost fully in the sun for most of the day (as they must be to ripen their fruit).
The photo above was taken on 25 September, at solar noon (12:40). That’s after the equinox, correct? Well, I sure would have thought so. Calendars indicate that the equinox was on Sunday, the 23rd. Yet, if we go by the Time and Date website, and understand “equinox” as that 24-hour period when the daylight and night hours are equal, then the equinox would really be the night of 26-27 September.
26-27 September? Well, that just happens to coincide this year with 15 Tishri, which, of course, is the first night of Sukkot. The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox–the perfect night to begin an eight-day celebration of the harvest!
The moon will indeed be full here on 26 September. According to Time and Date, it will reach its fullness at 12:45 PM, or almost exactly at solar noon, though of course the moon will not be visible then. That means that, here in the San Diego area, it will be just about as full tonight as it will be tomorrow. And, indeed, just now, at about the same time as sunset, the “full” moon has risen over the ridge to the east!
Naturally, in Jerusalem, where the sighting of the full moon in ancient days would have led to the declaration that Sukkot was beginning, the moon will indeed reach its fullness on the evening of 26 September/15 Tishri (at 9:45 PM, local time).
Rejoice in the harvest! Fall is here! Chag ha-Asif sameach!1
Yes, the Orchardist is mooning his readers yet again. But fortunately for all of you, it’s just another moon shot. With the trusty digital camera, that is.
I like the way the moon, as viewed in the photo, is pretty much exactly at its first quarter1 and visible well before sundown, at which point the Hebrew calendar date will be 8 Tishri, indicating that the first week of the year’s first month has passed. And I like the way it appears just above a cloud. Today was the first day in a while at Ladera Frutal with significant clouds, not counting that weird tropical stuff earlier in the month (the Gregorian month of September, that is).
It felt like fall, and, of course, this Friday Sunday morning is the first day of fall.2 Today was also the first day since 11 June that the high temperature (71) was below 75. And while the cloud cover kept the overnight low in the 60s, the glorious clear morning of Shabbat Shuvah had a low of 52, also the lowest since early June. Yes, I do believe we are turning towards fall; there is even the beginning of leaves turning in the corralito.3
I find it interesting how the trees do not quite know how to cope this time of year. Their older leaves are turning color or even falling already. But the trees are still putting out new leaves, just in case it’s not really time to rest yet.
The next quarter of the moon will mark the beginning of Sukkot, the season of our joy for the harvest. I just love how the Jewish calendar connects the moon to the seasons, and thus to the cycles of agriculture. Rabbi Jill Hammer sums it up well, and includes a reason for why Sukkot should be (and perhaps actually was at one time) the New Year rather than Rosh ha-Shanah. So, here’s another Shanah Tovah to all F&V readers, on this “pivot” day, halfway between Rosh ha-Shanah and Sukkot!
The precise first quarter (i.e. the half moon) actually was at 9:48 this morning, well past the previous night’s moonset. [↩]
Not to forget my southern hemisphere readers, I am of course speaking from my northern-hemispherist point of view. Originally I thought the equinox was 21 September, but it was actually 23 September, 0951 UTC. [↩]
And on the morning of 21 September the low temperature was actually 44 at the corralito! [↩]
It is the full moon of the Jewish month of Av, or the “holiday” of Tu B’Av. This certainly counts as one of the lesser known Jewish holidays, though it never really was a “holy” day in any religiously significant sense. Rather, it is one of those days that had more meaning for the agricultural calendar than the religious one. Of course, the agricultural connections of many of the religious holidays is a recurring theme around these parts.
In one of my favorite books about these agricultural-religious connections, Nature in Our Biblical Heritage (Neot Kedumim, 1980), author Nogah Hareuuveni notes that Tu B’Av is a “festival of the land, forgotten in the Diaspora” (p. 91). However, it was once much more important.
Said Rabban Shimon Ben-Gamliel [in the second century C.E.]: There were no better festive days in Israel than the fifteenth of the month of Av and Yom Kippur.
Hareuuveni notes that both holidays were celebrated with “dances in the groves” rather than at the Temple. It is the dancing (and match-making) connection that has led to some revival of Tu B’Av in Israel as an alternative to Valentine’s Day–caution sexy link about “phallic carrots and the fig’s juicy sweetness”!*
OK, what was that about agricultural-religious connections? Oh, yes… I am not about to try to summarize Hareuuveni’s very rich contextual discussion of the ancient observance of Tu B’Av, but the upshot is that Hareuuveni notes it is the day (on average) when the white squill blooms all over Israel and this flower has a special place in Middle Eastern folklore because its bloom coincides with
the season in which morning mists gather, clouds appear in the sky and once again farmers begin to be concerned with the amount and distribution of rainfall in the coming year.
Moreover, it is also the time when the olives on the tree begin to fill with oil. Hareuuveni says that,
According to Arab olive growers, white squill flowers emerge from their large bulbs on “olive day”: “Take an olive between your fingers on the day the white squill blossoms, and you will be able to squeeze oil from it. Before that there is no oil in it.”
Ah, ha! Tu B’Av marks another of those seasonal transitions that would be important to farmers in the Mediterranean climate, but would be of little significance to Diaspora communities (unless, like Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah or Pesach, it was tied to a more sacred religious event as well).
So, the reasons Tu B’Av has faded over the centuries (with some comeback of the dancing and romancing aspects in modern Israel) is the absence of a religious connection to give it meaning outside of its ancient agricultural roots. But why no religious connection in the first place? It seems to me that some of it has to do with the same reasons why there is no Jewish festival around the summer solstice: for an ancient monotheistic agricultural society being weaned off paganism, there are no significant “other gods” temptations at this time of year, as there are in fall, winter, and spring.
Nonetheless, it is a seasonal transition–as quoted above, when the farmers “begin to be concerned” about the coming rainfall. That suggests that Tu B’Av is, like Yom Kippur only without the deep religious significance, a time for reflection on what has passed and on the possibilities ahead. Summer is dwindling, but daylight and warmth remain abundant. Fall is not here yet, but it is coming soon, as the shortening of the days remind us. (Here at Ladera Frutal, which is about the same latitude as Israel, the day will be 31 minutes shorter than it was at the solstice.)
Tu B’Av also is exactly six months ahead of Tu Bi-Sh’vat, the point at which trees begin to “wake up” for the coming spring. Here on Tu B’Av we are at about the point that the trees will begin to shut down for the coming winter. It really is the beginning of fall, even if it won’t feel much like it for a while. The days are getting shorter, the nights will be getting a bit cooler (and soon the days, too). Leaves will begin to wilt, change color, and get ready to fall, and most of our harvest from deciduous fruit trees is behind us.
Enjoy what remains of your summer. And, maybe go dancing in a grove near you.
* The idea of dancing in groves on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is certainly a long lost aspect of High Holy Days observance, but as Hareuuveni notes (p. 92): “the Talmudic sages had no difficulty in reconciling a joyful activity with the solemnity of Yom Kippur…” and he quotes Ta’anit 30b: “Yom Kippur–because it is a day of forgiveness–the day on which the second Tablets were given,” and hence a day of joy for our being forgiven (provided we have atoned to those we wronged). It was the dancing on Tu B’Av that the sages could not provide a religious connection to!
Over one of the Washingtonia palms just in front of the house, at about 10:00 p.m. on Shabbat eve of 14 Tammuz, the full moon that marks the brightest 24-hour period due to its close proximity to the summer solstice.1
The contrast between the bright moon and the otherwise dark sky is a bit of a challenge for my digital camera, but the effect nonetheless conveys just how bright the moon was. It is pretty much the only source of light in the photo, though there is some illumination from a light in the house and other lights visible along the canyon below.
As I discussed in the previous summer-solstice planting, it is striking that of the four major seasonal sun-earth events, the summer solstice is the one at which there is no Jewish festival tied to the corresponding moon cycle.2 In that entry, I suggested a reason for there not being one: unlike the other seasons, this time of year threatens few pagan-temptation problems for an ancient agricultural society’s monotheism. There is, in a Mediterranean climate, almost no risk of major storms or other natural phenomena that might tempt the people to pay homage to pagan gods. And, while I am confident that the lack of such temptation is correct, I must say that I am puzzled by the references in the Book of Joshua, right near the striking passage about the sun standing still (10:12-13), to hail stones and to a flooded Jordan, the flow of which must be stopped in order for the people to cross. Both of these references imply a sudden storm, very much out of season for events that tradition claims happened around this time of year.3 (Biblical scholars, help me out here!)
As I noted, there are some modern efforts to establish a Jewish summer-solstice ritual (and some similar interest among some Christians as well; see links in previous entry). However, those efforts that I know of all place the proposed rituals on the solstice itself. Given the lunar timing of all the other holidays, such a proposal seems, well, pagan. Any such rituals (and I will leave to others what they might be) should occur or climax on the evening depicted here: the full moon of Tammuz, the period of maximum day and night light.
1. There are years in which the full moon closest to the summer solstice would be that of Sivan. Next year will be one such year, as was 2005.
2. That is, there is Chanukah, timed for the waning moon closest to the winter solstice; Pesach, timed for the full moon of spring; and the High Holy Days, which begin with the new moon closest to the autumnal equinox and continue through to the week-long festival of Sukkot, which begins with the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. By occurring on Shabbat, the full moon of Tammuz joined Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, and Chanukah, which all occurred on or began on Shabbat in 5767.
3. The battles depicted therein probably never happened at all. That’s not the point. The book was written after the settlement in the Land of Israel to interpret the past in a way consistent with the now-settled national narrative. If it was intended to be understood that these events happened in summer, a hail storm and flooded river are rather out of context. The commentaries I have looked at do not address this, to my satisfaction, although there is perhaps a literature I have yet to locate.
The summer solstice is here,* so it is time to continue my occasional forays into the intersection of agronomy, astronomy, and spirituality!
With the sun at its highest angle of the year here in the San Diego area, there is only minimal shadow beneath the hedgerow (or over it, from the tall grapefruit trees at the left/south), in stark contrast to the maximum shadow exactly six months ago, at the winter solstice, or even what we saw three months ago at the vernal equinox.
Today, the sun rose at 5:41 a.m., the earliest it will be all year. The sunset will be at 8:00 p.m., giving us 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 30 seconds of daylight. (The sunset will actually get a bit later–as late as 8:01 from 28 June to 1 July, but by then the sunrises will be creeping later as well.)
The winter solstice this past year occurred very close to the darkest time of year, taking into account the moon cycle as well as the sun. In fact, that is why the winter solstice coincided almost perfectly in the year 2006/5767 with Chanukah, during which we remember the re-dedication of the ancient Temple by kindling candles at sundown during the waning moon closest to the winter solstice (follow the first link above for more).
So, when will we have maximum light? That would be the full moon closest to Tekufah Tammuz (the summer solstice), and in the year 2007/5767 that will be the night of 29-30 June (14 Tammuz, which also happens to be Shabbat). Unfortunately, by then we will have to settle for a mere 14 hours, 16 minutes, and 40 seconds of daylight preceding our full-moon night. (The solstice and a full moon closely coincided last in 2005 and will not again till 2024, in both cases the middle of the month of Sivan, whereas this Gregorian/solar year we are already several days into Tammuz at the solstice; today is 5 Tammuz, 5767, on the lunisolar Jewish calendar and the moon is thus just about to reach its first quarter.)
The summer solstice for many centuries has been marked by various pagan festivals. However, there is no holiday on the Jewish calendar to mark the summer solstice, despite the obvious fact that other holidays like Chanukah and Passover are built on the backs of pre-Jewish pagan celebrations (as are Christmas and Easter, too). Nonetheless, as the OC Register (not my favorite paper, but whatever) article just linked notes:
some modern Judeo-Christian groups are reviving solstice worship. [Let's assume the writer intended that to be taken as not worship of the solstice but worship on it.--MSS]
“Many of those who grew up in Jewish and Christian religion want to see the modern holidays in their agrarian origin,” Lucas said. [Amein--MSS] “These green Jews and green Christians are incorporating the solstice into their current practices.” [Hey, Green Jew, that's me!--MSS]
Some religious groups point to biblical passages that may have occurred on the summer solstice, including the verse in Joshua 10:12 in which Joshua stops the sun in the sky. (The term solstice is actually from two Latin words meaning “sun stands still.”)
“There is also a legend that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden on the summer solstice,” said Rabbi Jill Hammer, director and cofounder of Tel Shemesh, a Jewish organization focused on the celebration of nature. “In the Jewish tradition, the summer is always about this trade-off: abundance but also danger. The summer is about exile and sorrow and loss.”
Tel Shemesh offers a description of its summer-solstice ritual. As for the Joshua 10 reference above, it refers to the narrative of the battles for the conquest of Canaan (as re-told well after the events). Often ancient battles stopped at nightfall (night-vision technology being rather primitive back then); might the battle have taken place at the summer solstice?
“Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still” by Gustave Dore, (d. 1883) (courtesy Wikipedia.)
Some tradition says the battle was on 3 Tammuz. While we can’t possibly know–and the historicity of the events described in Joshua is dubious in any event–if there was an ancient battle on 3 Tammuz, the impending night after the standing still of the sun indeed would have been very dark (being just days past the new moon).
Of course, as the orchard photo above and its counterparts at the two earlier linked plantings show, each of these solar seasonal transitions (equinoxes and solstices) marks an important transitional point for the grower of deciduous fruit trees in a Mediterranean climate (such as the Land of Israel or southern California). At the winter solstice, the trees are in their deepest dormancy, while at the vernal equinox most of them are blooming or have just set their fruit. Now, at the summer solstice, we are approaching peak season for the fruit of the deciduous trees.
As the photo above shows, the ‘Geo Pride’ pluot has much fruit that is nearly full size, although not yet turning color and ripening (though it will do so very soon!). In the vernal-equinox photo, this tree was days past its peak bloom. As if on queue, the ‘Newcastle’ apricot, which is immediately to my back as I take these photos, dropped its first ripe fruit today!
The “production cycle” for the deciduous fruits and other crops may have much to do with why there is no Jewish holiday tradition at this time of year. Unlike in the winter and spring, there are few natural forces that seem to contend with one another in “battles” the outcome of which will determine the farmer’s bounty for the coming harvest (completed shortly after the autumnal equinox, and celebrated one full moon cycle after that equinox with Sukkot!). In the winter, we worry about warm days preventing good flower-bud set and about not having enough rain. In spring we worry about too much rain, or early heat and drying winds. For an ancient people being slowly weaned off polythesim, each of these battles was a temptation to stray and “bow before other gods” (paying homage to the god of rain or the god of sun, or whoever.)
Here at the summer solstice–the tension between “abundance but also danger” notwithstanding–we have the bounty of sunlight, the warm days and calm nights, almost no threat of major storms (in Mediterranean climates), and thus little to threaten the fruit.
Summer thus offers few temptations by those other gods, but plenty for which to give thanks to the One.
* Unless, you are way down south, of course, in which case it’s the winter solstice.
** Well, other then the squirrels and birds that the Ladera Frutal Dept. of Fruitland Security is always looking for new ways to keep at bay.
The connection between agriculture, mono- vs. poly-theism, and the Jewish festivals is developed in a terrific book by Nogah Hareuveni, Nature in our Biblical Heritage (Kiryat Ono, Israel: Neot Kedumim, 1980). There is nothing in that book about the summer solstice, however, because of there being no significant Jewish tradition about this solar event. There is an interesting discussion about Tu B’Av, however, but one thing at at time! That’s not till next month.
Another in the occasional series at the intersection of agronomy, astronomy, and spirituality…
Today, 21 March, is the first day of spring, with the vernal equinox* having arrived at 00:17 UTC (meaning technically spring began here yesterday afternoon). The following photo was taken at solar noon today from approximately the same point as the “Low noon” photo posted here on the winter solstice.
Because it is mostly cloudy today, unlike the sunny day we had on the winter solstice, the extent of shade cast over or near the hedgerow by the nearby grapefruit trees is not as obvious as I would have liked. Even so, you can see that it is only really dark on the south side (left of the photo) of the trunks of the trees in the hedgerow. With the sun angle at this latitude being 57.6 degrees today, compared to 33.9 degrees on the winter solstice, the greater part of these trees is already out of the shade and will be more so day by day as the trees grow (and, I hope, fruit).
Obviously, from the standpoint of the trees themselves, it has been spring here for a while. The tree in the foreground is the Geo Pride Pluot, days past its peak bloom. Several other trees are well on their way to leafing out and some are done blooming.
The upside of the freeze is that we had a lot of chill. Probably in the 650-700 hour range by the time a warm spell essentially ended chilling accumulation after the first week of March. And, as a result, some varieties that are marginal for the climate due to high chilling needs are blooming.
For instance, the Canadian White Blenheim. This has had some blooms in the past, but only sparingly and after being fully leafed out. I had never seen any stone fruit bloom after being fully leafed before, and the absence of any fruit from this tree’s few blooms in springs past confirmed my suspicion that such behavior indicates non-viable blossoms. As the photo above shows, this year it is blooming before the leaves, as one would expect if its chill requirement had been met. At the center of the photo are two open blooms from one set of buds, and several other buds about to burst. Unusual for an apricot, the flowers have a slight pink blush to them.
Even the Hunza is blooming!
As I have explained before, growing Hunza–and doing so right in the shadows of a large grapefruit tree–is very much an experiment in chill-cheating, and I had low expectations upon planting it. Blooms do not guarantee fruit, but they are a necessary condition, for sure!
Spring is here. And if the vernal equinox has arrived, then Pesach is right around the corner, at the full moon, as perfect for illuminating one’s liberation as the flowers of spring are for reminding us of the opportunities ahead. It is one thing to have freedom; it is another to make good use of it, whether we are talking about religious or political freedom. And, inspired by an orchard in bloom, this is as good a time as any for reflecting upon such gifts and their responsibilities.
On the Hebrew calendar, today is 2 Nisan.** The full moon will be (as always) 15 Nisan, the first day of Pesach. And for Christians (both Eastern and Western, this year***), Easter is the Sunday immediately following, 8 April.
* Unless, of course, you are in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s the autumnal equinox, or the first day of fall.
** Meaning that 1 Nisan corresponded with the beginning of spring here–as presumably it should–given that the equinox was actually 20 March in North America, as noted above, and here the equinox was before sunset, meaning it was indeed still 1 Nisan.
*** If someone can explain the rules for calculating the date of Easter used by Orthodox Christians, please enlighten me. If Wikipedia can be trusted, Orthodox Easter will be 27 April in 2008. I believe Eastern Christians use the Julian calendar, but nonetheless, the equinox is the equinox, and this date would be more than a month after the start of spring.
In case you missed it in last Friday’s news, don’t miss it now:
Archeologists from Yale and the University of Leicester have identified an ancient solar observatory at Chankillo, Peru as the oldest in the Americas with alignments covering the entire solar year [...]
When viewed from two specially constructed observing points, the thirteen towers [built of earth on top of a ridge] are strikingly visible on the horizon, resembling large prehistoric teeth. Around the observing points are spaces where artifacts indicate that ritual gatherings were held.
The site dates to the 4th century B.C.E.
That this item appeared in the news just before a “blood moon” eclipse, and the full moon that marks Purim, just makes a fascinating story even more so!
Another in the occasional series of the intersections of agronomy, astronomy, and their significance on the Jewish calendar…
The moon will be full Saturday night, and given that we are in the month of Adar on the Jewish calendar, that means it will be Purim. The photo below shows the moon, a bit shy of full, a minute or two before sundown on 28 February (i.e. just as it was about to become 11 Adar). Here at Ladera Frutal we won’t see the lunar eclipse that will usher in Purim for folks in some parts of the globe.^ We’ll have to settle for webcasts of a moon that promises to “take on an eerie coppery tint that has often been compared with blood.”
Moon of 11 Adar rising in the east around sundown, over the orange and avocado trees.
The traditional explanation of Purim’s purpose in Jewish life is as a commemoration of Jewish victory against an evil ruler–sadly, a recurring historical theme. However, the story, as told in the book of Esther, has minimal (and I may be generous in using that word) historical basis. What Purim really marks is the end of winter, at least for those of us in Mediterranean climates (of the northern hemisphere). Once we have seen the full moon of Adar (assuming it’s not eclipsed!), we would expect that, in such a climate, the danger of freezes is pretty much past. As such, the fixing of Purim in the cycle of sun and moon was a way of regulating the agricultural calendar as much as it is a religious event.
At the full moon of Adar we are one month past the full moon of Shevat, otherwise known as Tu Bishvat, the (minor) holiday that marks the beginning of the end of winter (traditionally, when Israel’s almond trees begin to flower). And we are one month away from the full moon of Nisan, which marks the spring equinox (when winter is once and for all over)–the occasion of Pesach/Passover and its commemoration of liberation in the Exodus story.
The exception in this timing, with even one-month intervals between the three holidays that mark the progression of winter to spring is if it’s a leap year in the Jewish calendar. In a leap year an additional month has been added, separating Tu Bishvat and Purim by two months,* but keeping Purim and Pesach one month apart. So, does that mean winter lingers longer in leap years? Next year will be a leap year on the Jewish calendar–as on the Gregorian–so I will be watching those bloom dates to find out.** The additional month comes seven times every nineteen years and is necessary to keep the rhythm of a calendar that is, for agricultural purposes, tied to the sun (and hence the seasons) as well as the moon.
So, is winter over at Ladera Frutal? Well, we had a light freeze at the lowest level of the finca on 1 March and a near-freeze this morning. But Saturday it should be about 80, and while a return of chilly weather is by all means possible, it sure does seem as though one of the coldest winters of recent times is winding down. Signs of spring abound. The lower-chill peaches are all in bloom (the earliest bloomer, Tropic Snow, is past the peak of its flowering), the higher-chill peaches are gearing up to bloom, and we’ve seen the first blooms on the Newcastle apricot and Mesch Mesch Amrah plumcot. The Flavor Delight aprium is nearing full bloom, and several other apricots and the Kuban burgundy plum are close to their first bloom.# Yes, I think spring is upon us! In the spirit of the holiday, I will most certainly drink to that.
(Of course, the surest sign of spring is that I have been listening to baseball games!)
^ [new note, 4 Mar.] Mah Rabu notes that the process of an eclipse “exactly parallels the structure of the book of Esther: during the first half, it appears as though the Jews are going to be annihilated. In the end, this ominous darkness is chased away, and everything works out.” So, how often does an eclipse happen on Purim? Both events have to occur at a full moon, so a convergence would happen now and then, but I have no idea how often. And as Mah Rabu notes, this convergence is yet another example of how “This yearâ€™s cosmic confluences march on!”
Unfortunately, I was indeed unable to see the eclipse. As the photo shows, the moon has been rising before sunset, but the period of the eclipse here on the west coast of North America likewise occurred before sunset. It is possible that it was visible and I simply missed it, but it is more likely that the sky was still too bright at the time for an eclipsed moon to be visible.
* Using Gregorian dates, the three holidays this year fall on the 3 February, 4 March, and 3 April (the first of eight days in the case of Passover). In 2008, they will be 22 January, 21 March, and 20 April. (22 January seems awfully early for almond flowers!)
** I am eager to find out which calendar is better for tracking the bloom and ripening dates of the fruits of Ladera Frutal, the Gregorian or the Jewish. I am betting on the latter, but stay tuned!
# The reader interested in these varieties is referred to the Stone fruits and Chill hours blocks, where these have been discussed in past springs and summers.
It was hot during the day (5 Feb.): 87. Even in the morning it was very mild: low of 45 at the corralito and 54 up here at LF HQ. What a far cry from exactly three weeks ago, when the lows were 23 and 27.
Moments before I took the photo above, I snapped this one, looking off to the southeast.
I like the way the fruit (and, alas, the freeze-burned trees down the slope) pick up the red tint from the sunset, along with the reflections and lights on the distant slopes.
As with most photos posted here at Fruits.LaderaFrutal.com, click the image and the photo page will open in a new window, and from there it is possible to go to a full-screen view.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4