If you’ve pulled out the vacuum and aired out the house in the past few weeks, welcome to the club. You’ve joined in on the longstanding tradition of spring cleaning. Though spring may feel like an arbitrary occasion, the practice holds historical and cultural significance in the US and beyond.
From “shaking the house” to water gun fights, here’s how people around the world refresh their homes for spring each year.
Airing Out the House
When homes were lit and heated with kerosene, wood, and coal, cleaning was a Groundhog Day of sweeping and dusting. Just look at the to-do list of one American housewife in 1864:
Swept and dusted sitting-room and kitchen 350 times.
Filled lamps 362 times.
Swept and dusted chamber & stairs 40 times.
With a winter routine like that, it’s not hard to imagine that spring was a welcome occasion to throw open the windows and rid the house of soot and grease.
Lunar New Year
A thorough house cleaning is one of the oldest new year traditions in China and other parts of Asia. To signify a fresh start, families sweep every corner of the house, take out the trash, and repair any broken items before welcoming the new year.
On March 1 in Bulgaria, “Grandma March” visits clean homes and shakes out her mattress for the last time before spring. Bulgarians exchange martenitsas, red and white yarn trinkets in the form of bracelets, brooches, or small figurines that symbolize prosperity and good health. These are worn until the wearer sees a blossom or a stork (which migrates back to Bulgaria for spring).
If we’re ranking spring cleaning traditions by most fun had, Thailand’s Buddhist new year takes the top prize. What started as an occasion each April to visit temples and pour water over Buddha statues is now accompanied by jubilant water fights on the street. People pour water on each other with buckets, hoses, squirt guns to wash away bad luck from the previous year.
Spring cleaning is extra serious in the kitchen for the Jewish community. Each March or April, Jews remove leavened items (chametz) from their homes for Passover. Even the tiniest crumb counts!
To mark the first day of spring, Iranians practice khooneh tekouni, literally “shaking the house” ahead of the Persian New Year. The full house deep clean includes sweeping, dusting, and post-winter repairs.