Spring is the time of awakening of nature after its ‘Winterschlaf’ (winter sleep=hibernation). It is considered to be the time for celebrating life. In the UK, it’s lambing season and daffodils colour meadows and gardens gold.
In many European countries, there are unusual traditional celebrations to say goodbye to winter and welcome spring. Some events use the backdrop of the world exploding into colourful bloom. Others are linked to ancient pagan celebrations of fertility and prowess.
One of the unusual spring traditions is Gloucester’s Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling. The event goes back to the 1800s with thousands of spectators and competitors determined to keep the tradition alive. This year, due to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the end of May event will take place in June.
The hill where the cheese rolling takes place is so steep that most contestants tumble down it as they try to catch the 8lbs heavy round of Double Gloucester cheese. It is impossible to catch the cheese which can travel down the hill at up to 70 mph. Some attempts have resulted in broken bones.
The winner is the one who crosses the line at the bottom of the hill first. Despite the high risk of injury, with a record in 1997 when 33 competitors needed treatment, there are always enough applicants for the challenge. There are women and children’s events to complete the fun day.
If you are interested, the Gloucester Cheese Rolling has a Facebook page
Buckets of water
In Hungary, spring tradition intertwines many local traditions related to the arrival of spring with courting customs and fertility. Women and girls decorate eggs, like in many other countries. But, rather than hiding the eggs for children to find, they are made to offer to men and boys who arrive on Easter Sunday. Males of all ages are learning short poems to recite as they visit households of females they know. They bring bottles of perfume with them (sadly often cheap ones) and sprinkle some of the contents onto the heads of the women and girls of the households they visit. This is to represent the act of watering flowers, to stop them from wilting, ie in the case of women, to keep them young. In the olden days, especially in the country, the men would use water as a symbol of fertility: they would grab the women and take them next to the well and toss a bucket of water on them. In return for this “freshening” girls give painted eggs, and offer traditional Hungarian-Easter food and drinks and a stiff drink in the form of traditional ‘pálinka’. That is a brandy made from apricots, cherries or other fruits. The rarest of them is made from raspberries.
The night of 30 April is halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice. The date has a strong connection with Beltane, the Celtic festival that was considered the last day of winter and was a celebration of the beginning of summer.
In some parts of Northern and Eastern Europe, from Sweden to the Czech Republic, Walpurgis Night is celebrated on the evening of 30 April. In Germany, it is known as Walpurgisnacht, as Valborg in Sweden and as Čarodejnice in the Czech Republic.
The customs of Walpurgis Night gave it the nickname ‘the other Halloween’. For instance, a popular tradition of Walpurgis Night is burning an effigy of a witch on a bonfire in the evening of 30 April.
In Germanic folklore, people believed that witches rode across the sky on Witches Night (Hexennacht). To scare the witches and ward off any evil spirits, the locals would light bonfires as witches apparently don’t like smoke. The church bells would ring and people would bang pots and pans as witches presumably don’t like noise.
St Walpurgis was an 8th century English nun who later became a German abbess. She brought Christianity to the region and is the saint associated with protection against magic, and is the patron saint against dog bites, rabies and whooping cough.
Čarodějnice is Czechia’s version of Walpurgis Night, celebrated across Northern and Central Europe. An old Čarodějnice legend is also that if a young woman doesn’t find someone to kiss under a cherry tree by midnight on Walpurgis night, she won’t find love for a year.
Tulips from Amsterdam
If you are a keen gardener or an admirer of flowers, spring’s richness of colour can be admired at the numerous flower shows across Europe. This includes the Chelsea Flower Show and, on the 13th May, the Flower Show in Girona, Spain and the Flower Festival in Madeira, Portugal. https://www.premiumincoming.com/european-destinations/the-5-best-flower-festivals-in-europe/
When buying a bunch of tulips at a supermarket near you, you might not be aware of the history of this spring flower: the ‘Tulip Mania’ of the 17th century. According to Wikipedia, this was “… a period during the Dutch Golden Age when contract prices for some bulbs of the recently introduced and fashionable tulip reached extraordinarily high levels, with the major acceleration starting in 1634 and then dramatically collapsing in February 1637. (Footnote . ) It is generally considered to have been the first recorded speculative bubble or asset bubble in history.”
The best of the famous Dutch Tulip Festivals can be admired at Keukenhof Gardens, the Dutch Flower Parade, at flower farms and at sightseeing tours along the tulip fields.
Mike’s memories of spring traditions
As part of his job, Mike spent a time living in Italy where men give their partners yellow blossoms of mimosa as a sign of respect and love on Women’s Day. I know we’ve just had Women’s Day but it’s still displayed in their houses until Easter.
Mike has read that English flower growers are now reconsidering what flowers to grow as a financial decision due to the loss of European pickers. A Brexit benefit? Daffodils may cease to be a mass produced crop like Dutch tulips.
When Mike was a boy they had a big orchard on his Dad’s farm that was a yellow carpet of daffodils in Spring. His brother and he picked them, made bunches and left them in buckets on the wooden table on the country lane in West Sussex where his Dad put the milk churns every morning. They had a tin with “9d a bunch” on it. You could trust people then and it made a bit of pocket money for his family!