Finally, the long wait is over – spring is here and it looks like it is here to stay. Our winter has been a rather mild one, as usually we would still have some snow around in April, but we have had no snow since sometime in March.
All this means that we are slightly ahead in the garden; our spring flowers normally don’t show their blooms until mid to end of May, so this early sight is most welcome.
Here in Canada our planting season starts on the May long weekend, which this year is 18 May, usually it is far enough into May that the chance of snow is low. However, this year we are throwing caution to wind and are planting early given the great weather (and so is everyone else it seems, as the shops are already filling with plants).
All this talk of spring got me thinking about why we call it spring and what the history surrounding it is.
For some of us in the Northern Hemisphere it seems only fitting that spring starts in March, and for those of us in colder climes it is a silly idea indeed to have this season start in what seems to be the middle of winter. Spring officially arrived this year at 18:46 hrs on 20 March 2015 here in the Mountain Standard Time zone (MST). This is the time we had the vernal equinox, which is the time that the sun crosses the Earth’s equator from south to north and one of only two times in the year when day and night are of equal length. The vernal equinox does not fall on the same day every year, as the length of the calendar year does not quite align with that of the solar year, therefore the first day of spring is anywhere from 19 to 21 March and the last day is either 21 or 22 June.
So, what about our friends in the Southern Hemisphere (I would never have heard the end of it if I had forgotten about our southern neighbours!)? Their spring starts either on 22 or 23 September and lasts until 22 or 23 December.
In earlier times the vernal equinox was considered the beginning of a new year. For those who work the land it has always been an important day, as it signifies the beginning of regeneration and growth; from animals to crops.
The word spring first appeared in the 16th century; prior to this, starting in the 14th century, this time of year was called “springing time”. In the 15th century this got shortened to “spring-time” and then finally in the 16th century we arrived at just “spring”. The “springing time” came about in reference to plants springing from the ground. Prior to the season being called springing time it was called “Lent” in Old English. In turn the word lent comes from the Old English “lencten” which means spring.
So what about all the different spring traditions? Well, the best known one is Easter; see my previous post on this.
Spring cleaning is another tradition we suddenly feel the need to adhere to as soon as the weather turns a little warmer. It makes sense when you think about it. After being cooped up inside for the winter you want to sweep away the cobwebs, freshen things up. There might actually be a cultural significance behind this annual behaviour of ours. There are two theories on this. The first traces our annual spring clean back to the Persian New Year of Nowruz, which coincides with the first day of spring. As part of the traditions of this holiday the “rebirth of nature” is celebrated by replacing old items and garments with new ones. The second theory originates from the Jewish culture’s springtime task of ridding a household of all yeast-based foodstuffs in preparation for Passover.
No spring clean would be complete without the annual yard sale. In our town we actually have one day in May where most of our yard sales take place. The local paper has a map with everyone who is participating and tons of people do the rounds on the appointed Saturday. Yard sales, rummage sales, or car boot sales as they are called in the UK, date back to the early 1800s, when shipyards would put lost or damaged cargo (referred to back then as “romage”) up for sale to the general public.
There are tons of different spring traditions, celebrations and festivals around the world, each steeped in history; all of them celebrating the start of the new season, the rebirth of life on planet Earth.
Here is hoping our spring is here to stay!