As with all Jewish holidays, Shavuot begins at sundown. It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals. It is commanded in the Torah and was observed as a pilgrimage in ancient times – all Jews were to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice. It is described in the Torah as a natural and agricultural holiday.
MyJewishLearning.com says this:
A portion of the harvest is dedicated to God. Deut. 26:1-11 specifies that every Israelite must offer the first fruits of his crop to the priests of the Temple. Traditionally on the second day of Passover(Nisan 16) a sheaf of barley was given. Shavuot was also known as the festival of the first fruits (HAG HA-BIKKURIM); this pilgrim festival was a time for making the offering. Although this practice ended with the destruction of the Temple, first-fruit celebrations still take place in the State of Israel.
Later tradition linked the holiday to the giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai. This rabbinic teaching developed the tradition of an all night study in an expression of the longing for Torah.
I got the quote below from Arthur Waskow’s book, Seasons of our Joy. It’s a terrific resource for all the holidays.
In Exodus 23:16 the Torahs states: Israelites shall hold a festival for the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field.
You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as a wave-offering…baked after leavening, as first fruits to Adonai…On that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall not work at your occupations. Lev 23:17-23
You shall observe the Feast of Weeks for Adonai, offering your freewill contribution according as the Holy One has blessed you. You shall rejoice before God with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite in your communities, and the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your midst, at the place where Adonai, your God will choose to establish God’s name. Deut. 16:10-11
I often envision this as a HUGE communal picnic. Everyone brings some food to the Temple. It is prepared, some is sacrificed and the rest is fed to the priests and the crowd. I wish I could time travel and see it for myself.
You can make your holiday festive by cooking and baking with dairy and wheat. Blintzes are a great combination of those two ingredients and oh, so delicious! One year I make lots of bread dough and let my kids shape the dough into springtime images – flowers, trees, birds. After rising and baking they were less distinguishable but quite yummy.
Invite friends over. Have a potluck picnic on your deck or in your yard or at a park. Drizzle honey over something – bread, apples or cinnamon rolls. Make ice cream! I have a chocolate idea up my sleeve and I’ll share that soon.