The upcoming holiday of Shavuot marks an agricultural milestone. Shavuot was the time when first fruits were brought to the Temple. In todays day and age when we eat strawberries or tomatoes in winter and oranges in summer, when almost all produce is available all year round, it is easy to forget about the seasons. But in Biblical times and even up until recently, we all ate seasonally. Citrus was a winter fruit. Berries were summer fruits. Not so today.
I still make an effort to try to eat seasonally as much as possible. Like the seasons themselves, which bring the joys of firsts a star-y snowflake or perfect raindrop, a flower pushing itself up through fresh soil, a tweet of a bird or buzz of a bee there is something to be said for the joy of a first taste of a new fruit or vegetable.
On Shavuot, one of the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals, the gathering of the first ripening fruits in gratitude for the spring harvest, the entering into Jerusalem in a colorful procession with overflowing woven baskets balanced on heads or carried in wide grasping arms, were accompanied by festive music. Throughout ancient Israel, people brought the bounty of late spring to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Although today we no longer bring baskets of bountiful fruit to Jerusalem for Shavuot, there is still a remote connection to bringing nature indoors. The custom is to gather flowers from the fields and to adorn our homes and synagogues with colorful blooms.
Although this custom harkens back to Mt. Sinai and the receipt of the Torah there, on a humble, blooming mountain, I also associate the flower gathering with the quality of Shavuot as a festival of harvest and an awakening of springtime.