The holiday of Shavout begins this evening. The LA Times ran a very interesting article about foods for the holiday: "Shavout: A Feast for Body and Soul." One of my interests as a secular Jew is the history of foods for Jewish holidays and celebrations -- and also cooking and eating them. Shavout, a grain-and-fruit-harvest festival, has an especially rich tradition of foods and complex history of what and why people chose them.
In Biblical times, bread was the main food for Shavout. After the Temple fell, Rabbinic scholars shifted the significance of the holiday to a celebration of the giving of the Torah: "Searching through the Bible like employees at a 'CSI' crime lab, they found clues that proved to them that the ancient harvest festival had actually coincided with a crucial 'spiritual harvest' as well: What the Israelites 'reaped' at Shavuot was the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai."
Still later, the Shavout food tradition morphed again, and dairy foods appeared as the centerpiece of the holiday table. As a secular Jew, I enjoy the complicated explanations for why this is the tradition (as well as liking to eat them). For example, it's said that the Jews waiting for Moses didn't know about dietary laws until the Torah was delivered. To celebrate, they had to make a kosher meal -- but had no time for kosher slaughter that had just been explained to them. What to do? Eat blintzes.
I also like the more historic explanations, such as those in the L.A. Times article.