Living Madly – Rites of Spring

Emilie-Noelle Provost on May 6th, 2019

Spring always seems to sneak up on me. One day I’m carving the Thanksgiving turkey, and the next thing I know daffodils are popping up in the yard. It’s almost as if the world shrinks down to the size of my house sometime during the cold, dark months of January and February, and by late March anything beyond it feels almost like alien territory: I can see the grass turning green and the sun shining, but I need a bit of a push before I can again begin living life outside my four cozy walls.

As the young leaves rustle in the breeze and the days continue to get warmer and longer, I’ve thought about how, for thousands of years, people have celebrated the arrival of spring in part as a way to help each other overcome the urge to nest in place that seems to settle in during the course of a long winter, a compulsion that can, at least for me, become a habit that’s difficult to break.

Most of the world’s major religions have long observed springtime holidays and rituals centered on the idea of rebirth. Christians have Lent followed by Easter. In Judaism, there is Purim and Passover. Hindus in South Asia celebrate Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors. The ancient Mayans observed the return of the Sun Serpent on the spring equinox, and the ancient Greeks celebrated the Festival of Dionysus — the god of wine, fertility and rebirth — every March.

Many nonreligious springtime festivals around the world also commemorate new life, including May Day in Europe, Nowruz in Iran, Baba Marta in Bulgaria, and the New Year’s celebrations in April in Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia and Thailand. Modern springtime festivities like the Canadian Tulip Festival, held in Ottawa each May, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival, held during late March and early April in Washington, D.C., have helped keep the tradition of celebrating spring’s rebirth relevant in an increasingly diverse and secular world.

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Because my wedding anniversary is in mid-April, travel has served as one of my springtime rites for many years. As my husband, Rob, and I have often taken a short vacation to celebrate the occasion, I’ve found that there’s nothing like spending time in a new place and meeting new people — seeing how they live their lives and generally make things work for themselves — to help me remember that the world really is larger than my living room.

Rob and I also host our families for Easter dinner every year. It’s a tradition that our daughter, Madelaine, and her cousins have grown up with and one that we all look forward to. After not seeing many people in our family since Christmas, it’s always nice to have a chance to catch up and enjoy each other’s company.

I also look forward spring cleaning and organizing. It might sound a bit nuts, but there are few things I love more than touching up the paint on the woodwork, washing and ironing the curtains, and getting rid of things we don’t need that have somehow accumulated over the winter. Cleaning the house this way always gives me a feeling of freedom and lightness that makes anything seem possible.

It’s common for people to target New Year’s Day for the start of a self-improvement project or a fresh workout routine., but I think doing things like this in the springtime makes a lot more sense. Does anyone actually feel motivated to start eating more salads or jogging a few miles after dinner when it’s 10 degrees outside and the sun sets at 4 p.m.? It’s much better to wait until May, when the breezes are warm and scented with flowers.

After thinking about it all winter, I started work on my third novel this spring.

In her 1996 book “Under the Tuscan Sun,” author Frances Mayes wrote, “… life must change from time to time if we are to go forward in our thinking.” I think spring has always been the best time for changing and moving forward, even if it’s just leaving the house to go for a walk and say hello to the neighbors.    

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