Many of us associate trees with hiking and outdoor living. But for thousands of years, they’ve also been the central figures in celebrations and ceremonies. All around the world, people observe tree-focused festivals, holidays, and other special occasions. From the Tanabata celebration in Japan to Morocco’s Almond Blossom Festival, these eight international festivals bring us closer to each other—and to the wonder of the natural world.
A Jewish holiday honoring the cycles of nature, Tu BiShvat is also known as Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot, literally “New Year of the Trees.” The day is celebrated with its own seder, or festive meal, and many Jews also plant trees or donate to organizations dedicated to reforesting Israel.
This Andean and Amazonian holiday, also known as Corta Montes, is a celebration of new life at the end of the Carnival festival. The focal point: a small tree decorated with presents. Pairs take turns dancing around the tree before trying to cut it down with an axe (meant to symbolize a fresh start). Following ancient customs of ecological preservation, people then plant a new sapling in place of the downed tree.
Lam Tsuen Well-Wishing Festival
Hong Kong, February
Lam Tsuen is celebrated during the first few weeks of the Lunar New Year. Participants write a wish on red or gold paper tied to a small orange and then toss it up onto one of two banyan wishing trees. Legend holds that the higher it lands, the more likely it is that the wish will come true.
Almond Blossom Festival
Thousands of trees surrounding the town of Tafraoute produce the majority of Morocco’s almonds. To honor the bounty, Tafraoute hosts the Almond Blossom Festival each year. The date of the event depends on when the trees bloom. Revelers dance, sing, and tell stories late into the night.
England, Scotland, and Ireland, May 1
A Gaelic fire festival, Bealtaine celebrates summer’s approach. People decorate their homes with birch and hawthorn branches, said to be symbols of new beginnings. Groups light bonfires to purify and protect the community, then participants walk around the fire or jump over it. There’s also a maypole hung with colored ribbons to celebrate tree spirits.
Palo de Mayo
Sensual dance is a large part of this Afro-Nicaraguan tradition that dates to the 17th century. Primarily observed on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, the festival is especially lively during the final week. People dance around a tall wooden pole or a small tree decorated with fruit and colorful ribbons.
Rooted in Chinese folklore, the country-wide Tanabata is also known as the Star Festival. (It’s held either on July 7 or August 7, depending on the region.) People write their wishes on strips of brightly colored paper and tie them to bamboo branches. Since bamboo grows quickly, the hope is that wishes will touch the heavens as the trees grow.
Many of the current Christmas holiday traditions come from the ancient Norse festival of Yuletide. Throughout Germany, to celebrate the longer days ahead, residents bring evergreen trees inside and decorate them. Historically, people might burn an entire tree as the Yule log and keep the ashes beneath the bed; now, it’s usually a single log.