The Feast of Shavuot is a harvest festival that is celebrated on the sixth day of Sivan (between May 14th and June 15th each year). As with other Jewish holidays, observances begin at sundown on the previous day and end at sundown (though many diaspora communities observe the holiday over two days).
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The Feast of Shavuot coincides with the wheat harvest, which concluded seven weeks of harvest, though the holiday also commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.
The ancient holiday centred on a pilgrimage in which the first fruits of the harvest were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Temple and during the diaspora, the agricultural roots of the holiday remained a prominent aspect of celebrations, and they were reasserted in the kibbutz and moshav cooperative farming communities during the resettling of Israel. Modern Shavuot celebrations, common in farming villages, typically involve harvesting, tractor parades, celebratory meals, and dancing.
Anticipation for Shavuot begins with the “counting of the Omer” that starts on the second day of Passover and lasts for seven weeks (thus the English name for the holiday, the Feast of Weeks). This links Shavuot to the full Jewish festival calendar and casts the Exodus from Egypt (celebrated at Passover) as a prelude to the giving of the Torah. Correspondingly, evening study of the Torah in communal Tikkun Leil Shavuot events emphasises the celebrants’ readiness, through dedicated study, for the giving of the Torah.
Morning synagogue services for Shavuot typically include readings of the Akdmut—a liturgical poem—and the Book of Ruth (which is set during the wheat harvest). Synagogues, as well as homes, are commonly decorated with flowers and greenery, a custom that evokes the midrash account of the foot of Mount Sinai being covered in flowers when the Torah was given.
The origins of the widespread custom of consuming dairy products on the holiday are uncertain (possible explanations include that milk evokes the Torah’s nourishment, or its purity), but the significant increase in dairy sales for Shavuot attests to just how prominent this distinctive feature is in the celebration of the holiday.