Traditional (male) upsherins are generally held near boys’ third birthdays, but historically they were also held on two other days: on Lag b’Omer, 33 days after Passover, when haircuts and festivities are traditionally permitted, and just before Shavuot, when Jews celebrate receiving the Torah — because the upsherin inducts the newly shorn child into its study.
Besides family and friends, you might consider inviting a learned role model or two for your daughter, making it explicit that this ceremony is about valuing your daughter’s (and females’) Jewish learning. My husband and I invited men and women (and kids) to our daughter Miriam’s upsherin, but you could certainly choose to make your daughter’s ritual a purely “women’s event” in which she’s surrounded by the special girls and women in her life.
We began our event with the haircut, singing “siman tov u’mazal tov” as we put Miriam on a high stool and all gathered around. I took the first snip (after a few deep breaths), followed by my husband Moshe, and then our two other daughters, Rebecca and Anna Belle. After that, all the invited guests took snips, tucking Miriam’s shorn ringlets into a little keepsake bag (that I still intend to decorate!). I had invited a hairdresser to our upsherin and he neatened up our collective effort (though you may choose not to do this). When the hairdresser was done, I put a flower wreath in Miriam’s hair. She looked older, smarter, and beautiful.
We then all migrated over to a table on which I had laid out a (homemade) Hebrew-letter chart covered with wax paper and drizzled with chocolate syrup. You’re supposed to drizzle honey over each of the letters, but in the chaos that is our home, we forgot to buy honey. I led Miriam in a call-and-response, and after she repeated each letter, I guided her finger to the right letter and helped her take a lick. (Instead of doing this yourself, you might want to honor a teacher, older child or grandparent with this role.) I found this part of the ritual very moving.
Finally, I presented Miriam with a child’s set of candlesticks, explaining to her that she was now old enough to join her sisters and me in lighting them together every shabbos and holiday. She proudly held them up for all to see. We ended the ceremony with the four of us females — Rebecca, Anna Belle, Miriam and me — lighting the candles together to usher in Shavuot.
At the festive meal that followed, I spoke about the hopes for Miriam that my husband and I share. (You might want to ask guests to offer your daughter impromptu blessings; we didn’t do this.) I also gave a little drash, explaining that a child’s upsherin is often compared to the first pruning of a tree. I borrowed words from Jeremiah (17:8) for a blessing:
“May you be as a tree that spreads out its roots by the river, whose foliage is luxurious even when the heat comes and that yields fruit even in times of drought.” I shared my fervent hope that Miriam draw strength from the “river” of Torah and tradition where she was planted, and that from this place of rootedness, her productivity and creativity would always flourish.
For more on hair, that evergreen subject, check out Lilith’s iconic Spring 1995 issue online at lilith.org/current-issues/page/46.