1 Tishrei
Autumn Equinox
Rosh HaShanah

11 Cheshvan
Rachel's Death

1 Tevet
Winter Solstice

15 Shevat
Festival of Trees

1 Nisan
Spring Equinox

18 Iyar
Lag B'Omer
Torah and Manna

1 Tammuz
Summer Solstice
Mourning Jerusalem

15 Av
Tu B'Av
Harvest Dancing

The Tree of Life: Eight Branches of the Seasons

The cycle of the Jewish year, like many calendrical cycles, takes note of and weaves itself into the natural seasons: Passover falling in the spring, the new year of Rosh haShanah in the autumn, Chanukah in the winter, and so forth. One of the most important ways of tying the earth to the spirit is to fully celebrate the holidays as they pertain to the seasons and cycles of the earth. If one looks at both the major and minor festivals of the Jewish year, one will see that for the most part, major holidays fall at the equinoxes and solstices, while four minor but powerful “transitional” holidays fall exactly in between the equinoxes and solstices. Like the eight branches of the Chanukah menorah, each of these eight points on the calendar sheds its own light on our existence.

These eight points on the Jewish calendar are not meant to represent the most important Jewish holidays in a traditional sense (though all major Jewish holidays are covered somewhere in these essays). They are evenly-spaced moments, whether major or minor according to the tradition, that resonate with the transition of the seasons and the cycles of time.

These eight points closely parallel the festivals of ancient and modern European and Near Eastern calendars, and are deeply rooted in the movement of the seasons. I discovered the eight points on the Jewish calendar while looking for similarities and differences between Jewish holidays and the calendar of modern Goddess religion, which also has eight pivotal points based on seasonal change[1].While there are many unique qualities of the Jewish year, particularly the sense of repeated yet historical time (such as the story of the Exodus at the Passover seder or of the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B'Av) and the sense of evolving covenant (that one experiences during the counting of the omer, for example), it is instructive to note the similar ways in which peoples and faiths experience time through the changing seasons.

“The work of the Weaver, its pillars are four and its sockets are four.” —Exodus 27:16

Perhaps this is a hint of the eightfold structure of the calendar.

This partial phrase from the biblical description of the building of the Tabernacle hints at the eightfold structure of the year: four pillars (the equinoxes and solstices) and four sockets in between them.

Jill Hammer


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