Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, is a major festival with both historical and agricultural significance. Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim which means the Festival of the First Fruits. Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu which means the Festival of the living of Torah. The Torah was given by G-d to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai more than 3300 years ago. Every year on the holiday of Shavuot Jews renew their acceptance of G-d's gift and G-d "re-gives" them the Torah. The word Shavuot means "weeks." It marks the completion of the seven week counting period between Passover and Shavuot.
Shavuot is also connected to the season of the grain harvest in Israel. In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness. It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. Shavuot was thus the concluding festival of the grain harvest, just as the eighth day of Sukkot (Tabernacles) was the concluding festival of the fruit harvest. During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, an offering of two loaves of bread from the wheat harvest was made on Shavuot.
The giving of the Torah was a far-reaching spiritual event—one that touched the essence of the Jewish soul for all times. Jewish Sages have compared it to a wedding between G-d and the Jewish people. Shavuot also means oath and on this day G-d swore eternal devotion to them, and they in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him.
It is a custom to decorate homes and synagogues in green as Shavuot is a harvest holiday. People also decorate with flowers as Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is said that although Mount Sinai is located in the desert, the desert bloomed with flowers when the Torah was given to the Jewish People.
Women and girls light holiday candles to usher in the holiday, both on the first and second nights of the holidays. They stay up all night learning Torah on the first night of Shavuot. All men, women and children make sure to reach the synagogue on the first day of Shavuot to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments. As on other holidays, special meals are eaten, and no "work" is performed. Many eat dairy foods on Shavuot commemorating the fact that upon receiving the Torah, including the Kosher laws, the Jewish people could not cook meat in their pots which had yet to be rendered Kosher. On the second day of Shavuot, the Yizkor memorial service is recited. Some communities read the Book of Ruth, as King David, whose passing occurred on this day was a descendant of Ruth the Moabite.