When spring arrives, people become jolly, because the long-expected and oft-mentioned season finally came. The time of spring-cleaning, a symbolic purgation, arrives – probably this is the reason why you feel so light, because you get rid of your unnecessary things, loads, and your lives become more transparent. Weather becomes suitable for outdoor activities, like gardening. If you want to form a small or a large pot-garden, you had better wait until the soil temperature rises above 10 Celsius degrees in order to get a sure and rich harvest. Nevertheless, winter’s leaving has some less joyful results too: snow-floods due to the snow-break threaten plenty of riverside settlements and buildings.
Also Roman heritage
In the Ancient Rome, March was the first month of the year, and the Ides of March meant the beginning of a new year. The month of God Mars was a series of martial celebrations with parades, horse races and weapon cleaning. The ceremonies of April were done for a completely different reason, because it was the month of fertility. They kept festivals and presented sacrifices for rich grain crops, the increment of cows and sheep, and last but not least for women’s reproduction abilities. May was the period of growth and worrying about the yield, with expiator ceremonies, fasting and restraints, for example, it was forbidden to wed during this month.
Sacral and folk spring festivals
With a small skip in time and space, let’s see what the main spring traditions are in the Hungarian folklore and the Christian liturgical cycle. The old Hungarian name of March is the month of ‘böjtmás’, meaning that it is the second month of the forty-day long fasting spent in terms of religious engrossment. Fasting is a preparation for the feast of resurrection of Jesus, the Easter. Its last period is the Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday.
On Palm Sunday, we commemorate Jesus’ last entry into Jerusalem. Remembering this, people keep processions and willow-catkin consecrations, which is a ceremony against hex and illness. According to the folk tradition, ‘kiszehajtás’ is also held on Palm Sunday. Girls dress up a straw man in women’s clothes, bring it around the village and then throw it in the water or burn it. The aim of this ritual is that girls get married as soon as possible and to expel diseases out of the village. The popular Hungarian nursery rhyme ‘Bújj, bújj zöld ág’ was a song of a folk tradition originally, following ‘kiszehajtás’, called ‘zöldághordás’ or ‘villőzés’ (carrying willow branches around the village).
What is on the Easter table?
The Holy Sunday coming after the Holy Week is the feast of resurrection and revival. Food consecration is related to this day. The well-known Easter foods are put on the table as Christian symbols: the milk loaf is the body of Christ, the wine is his blood, the egg is resurrection and the lamb is the sacrifice – which is often replaced by ham. The tradition of sprinkling and giving eggs on Easter Monday is still well known and practiced today. It had a fertility spell role originally. The appearance of the reproductive rabbit among Easter symbols can be related to this role.
The Pesach or Passover is a Jewish holiday commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and the feast of the unleavened bread, called matzo, which was the food of Jews kept in slavery. It happens when nature awakens, thus it is a spring festival as well, when people present sacrifices for rich crops.
Merriment in May
Erecting a maypole is a folk custom with pagan origins. Courting boys erect maypoles decorated with ribbons for girls, but sometimes the whole community has its own maypole too. It is similar to the custom ‘zöldághordás’. The maypole is a phallic symbol, which is related to a tradition of spring festival of the youth, with dancing and amusements. Like climbing to the so-called ‘máj-kerék’ (may-wheel) on the top of the pole for ribbons or a bottle of drink placed there. If you are interested in this pagan fertility festival, watch the film classic The Wicker Man.
Spring in arts
In arts, spring equals with revival. It is a frequent tool in the Hungarian poetry, inspiring several poets like Mihály Csokonai Vitéz, Sándor Petőfi, Endre Ady, Mihály Babits, Attila József, Miklós Radnóti, Sándor Kányádi; but most of all, representatives of the impressionist lyre –Gyula Juhász, Dezső Kosztolányi, Árpád Tóth and Lajos Áprily - adored the ancient theme.
The season appears in painting as an allegory. Sandro Botticelli’s fifteenth-century artwork Primavera (spring) depicts a typical renaissance scene from the Roman mythology with Venus and the spring goddess Flora, who is strewing flowers. Floralia was an ancient Roman spring feast held in April-May in connection with revival, with flowers, dancing and bacchanals according to certain sources.
The Hungarian painter Károly Lotz also created the cycle of seasons. ‘A tavasz allegóriája’ (Allegory of Spring) is a mythological painting with the above-mentioned Flora, who is depicted typically as strewing flowers. He liked allegorical figures, which is showed well by the wall paintings of the Hungarian National Museum among others. His student István Csók, and generally the impressionists of the turn of the 19th century – József Rippl-Rónai or Lajos Kunffy – often used the symbol of spring as a tool.
Translated by Zita Aknai