In bloom! Spring welcoming traditions

By Sergio González | 10:48

Burning things from winter is a common tradition during spring equinox

We may consider Spring cleaning a tradition that our families started, exclusively for us and especially for our bedrooms, although the tradition goes back many years. So ancient, it’s in our DNA; there’s no way to escape it.

Clearing up our minds by burning old stuff represents some kind of renewal and closure while we get ready for a new spin from the circle of life. It’s a common pagan tradition for many cultures and building up the fire with things from winter that we won’t need during spring time -or we don’t wish to see anymore- is just one of its many versions.

This might be a tradition set up by one single family but has evolved through time and history into a bunch of different ways of celebrating Spring equinox, which was actually very important when crops could only grow during certain times of the year. Before the 20th century, modern agriculture, knowing when the sun was going to strike harder or the time the rains will come was a matter of life and death so they paid closer attention to the sky and marked every important event with monuments and celebrations.

The Celts were all over the European Atlantic shore and their influence spread like wildfire. Northern France, around Belgium and Luxembourg, the customs developed into Buergbrennen, a feast celebrating the  Spring solstice where people would gather around a burning wooden human-like structure, dressed winter attire, while enjoying the fruits of Spring, in other words having a fine time while enjoying food and drinks.

Buergbrennen was almost lost due to Roman Evangelization but its popularity is going up these days in Luxembourg and some neighbouring regions. As Luxembourg happens to be one of the greenest countries in the world, nowadays they build up the structures with dry Christmas trees, usually set to flames by newlyweds expecting to be granted some luck for their new turn in life.

It’s interesting that the burning structure is tied to a cross, though is unrelated to any religious symbology. After the Celts, the Romans ruled here and they used to punish criminals hanging them; as for Buergbrennen matters Winter is found guilty.

In the Mediterranean shore, winter is waved away with fire as well though celebrations are huge and popular. In Valencia, on the western Spanish coast, a whole week is devoted to Las Fallas. It’s a popular event where magnificent and intricated cupboard and paper statues depicting unpopular politicians or celebrities fill the city for some days to end up with a flagrant night, La Cremá, where all but one are set on fire.

It’s also linked to ancient fire traditions with a Catholic twist, but the day version of the Fallas started around 1740 based on the carpenter’s guild of burning waste during Spring; they don’t take place the 21st of March but rather on the 19th, St Joseph’s Day.

In the English county of Leicestere, the Church also tried to rearrange the spring equinox festivities, but locals literally kicked their intentions away. In the village of Hallaton, they welcome Spring by kicking bottles on the streets.

Legend tells of two girls that were desperately running from an angry bull when a hare appeared distracting the beast and saving them. Thankfully for this God’s gesture, they donated money to the local church for the poor to have beer, bread and hare every Easter Monday. Others link this tradition to the German goddess Ēostre, from whose name comes Easter, and who was honored with hare sacrifices.

This pagan origin was the cause for a ban of this tradition in 1790, that didn’t last. The day after the vicar announced the tradition was over, a sign hanging on his door -‘no pie, no parson’- quickly changed his mind.

Either way, no one knows why hundreds of locals and tourists run around Hallaton streets kicking tons of bottles every Easter Monday. Is it because they want to scare the fierce winter away?

Photo credit: Freddy the Boy

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