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This is America: Start your year off with a Tu BiShvat tradition – clean up your community!

David Oliver
USA TODAY

New year, new you?

If you're anything like me, you head into New Year's Eve with a flurry of emotions: happiness, excitement, dread, bewilderment and ultimately grace. Another year to try to get it right. To plant the seeds anew and start fresh.

While the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is actually in the fall, another Jewish holiday arrives this time of year (well, in January or February, because the Hebrew calendar never matches up with the Gregorian one).

It may be winter in the U.S., but in Israel, spring is just beginning. The annual Jewish holiday Tu BiShvat honors this moment in time.

What is Tu BiShvat?Everything to know about the Jewish holiday that celebrates nature

It's "become for many an environmental holiday, a reminder that we need to care for the earth and nature," said Rabbi Hara Person, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

The holiday celebrates the annual new year of trees. Think of it "like a Jewish Arbor Day," Person told me. You can celebrate by planting trees or cleaning up a local park, for example.

"For Jews outside of Israel, (Tu BiShvat) is a celebration of the renewal of vision and awareness, a celebration of connections and connectedness," according to Hillel International.

Cheers to that, indeed, when Americans struggle to connect as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to thwart our ability to regularly interact the way we once did.

I’m David Oliver, an entertainment reporter focusing on diversity and equality at USA TODAY, and I’d like to welcome you to this week’s "This Is America," a newsletter about race, identity and how they shape our lives.

The holiday celebrates the annual new year of trees. Think of it "like a Jewish Arbor Day."

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How I plan on celebrating – and how you could too

Ask anyone who knows me, and you'll know I tend to wax poetic about anything and everything under the sun. 

I don't typically know when Tu BiShvat is and briefly mixed it up with Sukkot, another Jewish holiday, in my head. In my defense, "both are part of the ancient agricultural cycle," Person told me. "Sukkot celebrates the end of the annual harvest, whereas Tu BiShvat celebrates the very beginning, basically the hope of the next harvest."

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That made me think about the New Year again, and how the end of something and the beginning of something else often intertwine themselves. To start fresh is to let go of something else, to end is to make room for something more. 

Of course, these transitions are never cut-and-dry. New Year's Eve is Dec. 31, and New Year's Day is Jan. 1, just two days in time with no material significance between them. Ditto for Tu BiShvat, which always winds up on a different day on the Gregorian calendar anyway.

This year, though, the holiday coincidentally lines up with Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a day when many, in addition to listening to the civil rights activist's "I Have a Dream" speech and reflecting on his legacy, take time to help their local communities. I typically pick up trash in my area that day, reminding myself of how important it is to be aware of my environment and take care of it.

I told you I waxed poetic about anything and everything under the sun — including all the nature around us deserving of our undivided attention.

At a moment when so much seems in flux, and where outside remains a safe space, honoring our surroundings feels like a no-brainer.

This is America is a weekly take on current events from a rotating panel of USA TODAY Network journalists with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. If you're seeing this newsletter online or someone forwarded it to you, you can subscribe here. If you have feedback for us, we'd love for you to drop it here.

Another holiday to learn about:Hanukkah 2021: No, it's not the 'Jewish Christmas.' Here's what to know