Into the light

The golden thread of spring isn’t to be found only in how it looks, but in how (and when) it’s celebrated, says Tanya Meeson
Woman&Home, September 2022

The first time I went to England it was because I’d landed a job up North in a small village called Boroughbridge. I decided to arrive in autumn. It was a rookie mistake.

My first English winter was dire. The sky seemed always grey and low, even when it wasn’t raining. What sun there was, was so weak it felt sick, and by 3 pm was already setting. There wasn’t even any snow. (Once, some flakes drifted delightfully to the ground before turning almost instantly to bleak puddles.)

The only thing to do after work was go to the pub with my colleagues, an awkward collection of Russians, Indians and Sheffielders, where we’d attempt small talk while nursing our pints. By seven it’d been midnight for years and I wanted to sleep forever.

Sometimes I tried walking around the village to pep myself up, but the countryside seemed both green and dead: monotonous emerald fields broken only by skeletal trees and spare hedges. It was deeply depressing to my young self. I couldn’t understand how people lived there without suffering complete soul-death.

But then something truly miraculous happened. Something fundamentally new to my basket of experience. Something that would explain how the long-suffering Brits made it through the dark days of winter. And that something was the arrival of spring.

Ostara or Ēostre, the goddess of spring

The English poets, I found, hadn’t exaggerated the sheer overwhelm of beauty and wonder in this season. Sunlight arrived like the return of a lover, and every tree, shrub and dull grass mound erupted into life. Meadows and flowerbeds that had lain dormant throughout winter were suddenly explosions of colour and texture. Ladybirds crowded every hedge, bright songbirds flitted through new leaves, rabbits and hares chased over the fields like characters from a Disney movie. For whole weeks, some of my neighbours even managed to smile.

The English poets, I found, hadn’t exaggerated the sheer overwhelm of beauty

It was, frankly, ridiculous. And it blew my small mind. Because we don’t really do spring where I live.

You see, Cape Town has two seasons: rainy and cold and windy and hot. And spring is only one glorious day between these, sometime in November. You’ll know it when it happens. You’ll wake up one morning and the damp chill will have lifted. The sky will be clear, but the air warm and the sun gentle. The night will be balmy, with no wind. The city will feel kind and the suburbs energised. You’ll go for your first sundowners on the beach and it will feel like a holiday postcard, and you’ll think, ‘ah this is the life’.

But quiet your friends and listen closely, and you’ll hear a slow thrum winding up from over the Atlantic as the South Easter turbines start up. And once you hear this, you’ll know that spring is done. The very next day, it will be summer: thirty degrees in the shade, sun out to kill you, and wind that’ll blow almost non-stop until February.

So, no. We don’t really do spring here. Which means we also don’t do the revival celebrations seen up North, those colourful festivals of maypole dances, burning effigies and flower parades that herald the return of life.

I used to feel a bit spring-cheated by this. Sure, those celebrations are driven by the kind of euphoria that’s born from the desperate relief that follows an escape from the dark hell-winters they endure, but all we get on spring day is drizzle and hadedas.

ha-zit my china

But something occurred to me recently that soothed this vexation: By the time our one perfect spring day rolls around, it’s basically the end of the year and the start of summer holidays. Which means that we don’t need a weekend hurrah for the return of spring because we have a month-long jol celebrating it all: the end of the annual cycle marked by office parties, school vacation, time off and festive season gatherings – and the revival of a new cycle, as we usher in a sunny new year with all bright new beginnings.

Burning carnival floats aside, it doesn’t get merrier and more jubilant than that.

So happy spring, dear reader. Even if it’s chilly and even if there are no flower parades and bouncing bunnies to jolly along your day. Summer celebrations are just round the corner.

Detail of a photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Hadeda photo by Mikell Darling on Unsplash