When is spring?

When does spring begin? It’s a simple question, or so I thought, but I got a few answers, February 1, others said March 1 and for those who are into the equinox there’s March 20. Maybe it’s better to beg the question: when does winter come to an end? Is it when the weather gets warmer, a notable stretch during the day or the end of non-stop rain? In Ireland spring has always been celebrated with the feast of St Brigid (1 February), which dates back centuries. For me, I look for a number of things that signify springs arrival there’s the familiar daffodil pushing its head above the ground. The daylight extending itself past four O’ Clock. Then you have the sheer joy of leaving the house without a winter coat and of course…. spring cleaning.

Spring cleaning & human biology

We’ve had a long winter, trying to cope with a lockdown that seems to go on forever. There’s the multiple use of our living space, working from home, schooling the kids from the kitchen table. The short days, isolating from the general public and the inclement weather has kept us confined. I wouldn’t be surprised if people were still in hibernation mode. Well it’s not a myth to feel like this; winter makes us inherently less active and lethargic. Your brain makes melatonin when there’s less sunshine on cold and dark days, which can make you drowsy and demobilized.

 I understand, it’s exactly how I feel (Certain days I’m full of motivation the other times not so good), but the reality is that spring time is the ideal time to spruce up your home and your outdoor space.

Spring cleaning means the general cleaning of one’s home after winter is done but is also rooted in culture, religion and even in our biology.

The Stations: Spring cleaning tradition in Ireland

Growing up in catholic Ireland during the 80’s my first recollection of spring cleaning was when The Stations were held in my family home. According to Irish Historian Dr Marion McGarry, The Stations Wasn’t a Catholic custom but an Irish pagan tradition. The church went along with it to appease the people and keep them on board. The stations a tradition that dates back to the penal laws, when it was forbidden for catholic priest to say mass in public to get around the problem, the mass was held secretly in people’s homes, afterwards those in attendance stayed on for the food and drink. As the years went by, and the penal laws were repealed the custom of The Stations continued especially in rural Ireland.

In my parish people took turns every few years to have The Stations in their home. My Parents considered it a great honour to be chosen. They used the occasion to have mass said for family, relatives, neighbours and friends. The preparation for it was started many weeks in advance. From what I remember my mother used the occasion as a valid reason to get all kind of home improvements started and finished. Pride in appearances and showing off one’s home was very important back in those days.

Cleaning inside and outside

As I recall the cleaning was not only reserved for the house, but also outside the garden and farmyard. Inside there were three important rooms, the kitchen (Preparation of food and drinks), Living room (where the altar, the priest and mass would take place) and bathroom. It is important to note that many people lived under the one roof in an Irish house. A typical Irish home consisted of two parents, two grandparents and anything from four to fourteen children. With so many people there was plenty of help at hand to get the household tasks completed within the required timeframe. I can remember my mom, sister and I wash, then painting the kitchen at three in the morning. We were promised great rewards for our labour such as sweets and chocolates.

The outside jobs went to my grandfather, my father and brothers. This involved rebuilding old stone walls and repairing torn down fences. Gates were painted and mounted in the right position. My grandmother who was not a woman for doing interior work, white washed the barns and painted the doors with a shiny red. For a more complicated job that involved heights an older cousin was called upon to complete this task, to paint the hay shed.

Modern springtime cleaning

The holding of The Stations is now a thing of the past. Spring cleaning remains strong and growing in importance. In fact, it has become more popular as people look to declutter their homes and declutter their lives. Spring is a time of new beginnings and growth.  

In researching for this week’s blog, I thought it was an Irish tradition. But cultures around the world have been doing spring cleaning for centuries. So as you dust, polish and clean your home this spring: Don’t forget that you are part of a centuries- old tradition rooted in religious and cultural traditions, and probably connected to your biology.

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