Shavuot, or the feast of weeks, begins at the end of the counting of the Omer, fifty days after the first night of Passover.
Shavuot actually began as a celebration of the harvest, referenced in Exodus as "Hag HaKatzir" (festival of harvest), though over time, it grew to also encompass the celebration of the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The book of numbers calls it the "Hag HaBikkurim" or "Festival of First Fruits".
In Biblical Times, loaves of bread and the best of the first fruit would be offered at the Temple to HaShem.
Shavuot is a deeply spiritual time---as Jews received the Torah, sages have long considered it the marriage between HaShem and the Jewish people--a merging that connects Jews with Torah.
Like so many Jewish holidays, Shavuot begins with the lighting of candles.
Ideally, they will be light 18 minutes before sunset, however, any time before the meal is fine.
Traditionally, lighting two candles is fine, however, you can light as many as you please. As Shavuot is a holiday celebrating the first harvest, anointing you candles with herbs and oils is a way to connect with the holiday on a deeper level.
Take your time to prepare your space and your candles. Olive oil, essential oils (like that of citrus, I love tangerine and grapefruit), or avocado oil are good options. Use only a few drops and rub them on the candle. Then, roll your candle in dried herbs. Peppermint, rosemary, clove, and rue are popular.
Then, bless your candles when lighting them.
Baruch atoh Ad-ni Eloheinu melech haolom, asher kideshanu bemitzvosov vetzivonu lehadlik ner shel Yom Tov.
Blessed are you, Sovereign our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with their commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Festival Day.
Then recite the Shehecheyanu blessing:
Baruch atoh Ad-ni Eloheinu melech haolom, shehecheyanu vikeeyimanu vihigeeanu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are you, Sovereign our G-d, ruler of the universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and let us reach this time.
NOTE: Practice proper fire safety when anointing candles. Always burn in a fire-safe dish, away from any flammable objects. Like all blessed candles, they should not be moved or blown out, so make sure you can watch them before lighting.
While cheese is the commonly accepted food, honoring the old traditions of baking bread is also well accepted. Sefardic Jews have the tradition of baking siete cielos challah, which has been on the decline since the Holocaust. For a recipe and history, click here. Ashkenazi Jews often bake a ladder shape onto their challot, and certain Eastern European Ashkenazim also bake Kolach (4).
Go Fruit Picking
In honor of the roots of Shavuot, spend the day in orchards or the fields, picking fresh fruit. If possible, plant a fruit tree so you can continue to pick fresh fruit for years to come. Plus, you can save those fruits for your next activity.
Stay Up All Night Studying
Known as Tikkun Leil, it is a tradition to spend the entirety of the first night of Shavuot studying. Learning about Jewish magic is a lifelong task, but dedicating a night to learning is always interesting and worth your while. Stay up reading blogs, listening to podcasts, discussing with friends. If you're in need of book recommendations, check out our Library Page, or head to your favorite online Research Library and try using any combination of fun search terms related to Jewish magic, history, and mysticism. You can also pick an area of focus and study all you can on that specific topic--like childbirth, reincarnation, classes of angels, etc, and go to town learning.
Decorate with Nature
In honoring the beginning of the season, Shavuot encourages us to bring nature indoors with decorations from wildflowers, branches, blossoms, and nature. Favorites include lilies, like those referenced in the Song of Songs, and roses of all kinds. You can fill your home with bouquets or wreaths and garlands and greenery. Bonus points if you spend time out in nature to find these decorations.
There is a tradition of Shavuoslekh (little Shavuot) or roiselekh (little roses), in was popular in Eastern Europe. While these are the Yiddish names and terminology, the paper cut decorations appeared in Jewish communities across the diaspora. They often included inscriptions, as seen above. These intricate paper flowers are handmade and a sight to behold. Making your own (as detailed or as simple as you'd like) is a great activity to connect with the holiday. You can find tutorials on YouTube, as well as in some older books about Jewish holidays, but you can also grab a pair of shears and let the creativity flow!
Defining Your Values
The day the Torah was given, Jews were given laws, rules, and guidelines for living. Many of us live our lives with Torah, but also with values we have learned and gained through lived experience. What are those rules that you live by? Take some time and look inward. Go into nature, if possible, and reflect. You can journal, meditate, or just spend the day in contemplation and discussion of your values.