For many of us, spring cleaning doesn’t have much to do with culture, religion or spirituality. We’ve been cooped up in our stuffy dwellings all winter, which can be such a downer that we sometimes let the clutter and dust pile up.
Now that the weather is warm, flowers are in bloom, and the sun is shining, we emerge from our cold-weather stupor ready to freshen up our caves – I mean – homes. But it shouldn’t surprise you that the United States doesn’t hold a monopoly on spring cleaning. Our general spring cleaning traditions have their roots in Europe, but in many places around the world, it’s about much more than just getting your actual house clean. A top-to-bottom, thorough house cleaning (which, depending on where you live, may not always take place in the spring) is often a tangible representation of changes happening within. Yes, I’m talking about religious or spiritual cleansing. Let’s get deep into some of the spring cleaning traditions around the world and their meaning. Maybe you’ll think a little differently about your need to tackle those cobwebs!
5. Lunar New Year
Chinese New Year comes around anywhere from late January to mid-February on the Gregorian calendar, depending on the phases of the moon. That’s why it’s also known as the Lunar New Year. You may have also heard that it’s the year of a certain animal or seen the parades in Chinatowns around the world, but that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Unlike my version of a New Year, which involves eating hors d’oeuvres and drinking champagne while watching a ball drop on TV, Chinese New Year is a really big deal. During the celebration in China, the first day of the new year marks the end of the winter, so the cleaning ritual that happens before is also spring cleaning. There’s a saying in Cantonese that means “wash away the dirt on Ninyabaat.” Ninyabaat is the 28th day of the 12th month (the Chinese calendar having 12 months like the Gregorian one that we use). But it’s just generally done before the first day of the new year. Thoroughly cleaning your home rids it of the bad luck of the past year and gets it ready to fill with the good luck sure to follow in the new one. Many people also use this time to repaint their homes and fix anything that’s broken. Rooms should be swept from the entrance to the center, with trash going out the back door. The front door is for the good luck to come in! Cleaning tools like brooms are put away and not used for at least the first few days after the new year begins so they don’t sweep away any good fortune.
The start of a new year is often considered a time of renewal, just like spring. Otherwise, why would we make those pesky resolutions? However, most of us probably aren’t doing lots of cleaning beforehand (unless you’re having people over). Plus, it’s in winter. But for many cultures, the new year and spring coincide. The Persian (and Iranian, and Zoroastrian) holiday known as Nowruz falls on the first day of spring and is the first day of the Persian calendar, too. People celebrate Nowruz in numerous countries in the Middle East, Central Asia and around the world. Before Nowruz celebrations can begin, though, there’s the spring cleaning ritual known as Khaneh-Tekani, literally “shaking house.” The entire family pitches in, scouring the whole house inside and out. This includes things that don’t get cleaned as often during the rest of the year, such as silverware, carpets and furniture, as well as clearing the garden of winter debris. Houses might also get a fresh coat of paint. To freshen and scent the air, some people burn sandalwood or an herb called espand. They may also buy scented flowers like hyacinth. Not only is Khaneh-Tekani about physically cleaning your house, it’s also about getting rid of the past and of evil spirits.
On many Asian calendars, New Year’s Day falls during the spring months. In Thailand, it’s April 13, marking the start of a two-day festival called Songkran. Similar festivals, which follow the same calendar, occur under different names in Laos and Cambodia. Thais not only use this time to give their houses a good deep cleaning, but they also clean any images or statues of Buddha in their homes or at shrines. During parades, people may also throw water at images of Buddha to ritually cleanse them. Often, this water is mixed with perfume and fragrant herbs, and all of the cleanliness is supposed to bring blessings and good luck in the new year. Originally, pouring water on others was meant to show them kindness and respect; water that had run off the Buddha images would be captured and then gently poured on elders and monks to bless and purify them. If you happen to be in Thailand during Songkran, though, you’d better be prepared to get a shower -whether you want one or not. Eventually, the water purification ritual evolved to spraying people in the streets with hoses and squirt guns. Not exactly the original spirit of the whole thing, but considering how hot it is in April in Thailand (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius), you might not mind.
2. Removing all Chametz
Like me, you probably already knew that Passover was a Jewish holiday in April, celebrating the ancient Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt. According to the Book of Exodus, they had to leave in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to let their bread rise, or leaven. That’s why Jews today only eat matzo – a flat, unleavened bread – during Passover. The Torah also proscribes that no leavened products, known as chametz, be present. What constitutes chametz can differ depending on who you ask, but strictly speaking, it means any product containing grains that isn’t certified as kosher for Passover. No chametz means not so much as a grain of flour. Jews may spend weeks before Passover cleaning their homes to remove it. First, they’ll go through their kitchen, removing any chametz and packing it away. Then they’ll clean the entire house – between every crack and crevice – to be sure that even the tiniest speck is gone. There’s a ritual search for any remaining chametz the night before Passover, and special prayers to release ownership of any chametz that was missed. What happens to the chametz? Some donate it or sell it to non-Jews (who also lease a sealed-off space in the home where it’s stored and buy it back after Passover, depending on what it is). Many Jews burn their chametz in a bonfire. It’s a seriously specialised form of cleaning that’s a tribute to the past but is also designed to remove the spiritual chametz of egotism and oppression.
1. Quema del Diablo
Not all “spring cleaning” takes place in the spring. By that I mean that for some places, the big cleaning rituals happen at other times of the year. One of the most shocking to those who don’t know about it is the Quema del Diablo, which happens on December 7 each year in Guatemala. Many Guatemalans follow the Christmas traditions of caroling, decorating their houses with lights and trees, and exchanging gifts. And if you happened to visit around that time, you’d see a man in a red suit. He’s not Santa Claus, though; he’s the devil. Quema del Diablo means “burning of the devil.” He’s believed to lurk under beds, in corners and in piles of junk. To get the nasty guy out of your house, you have to clean it thoroughly, sweeping all of your garbage outdoors into a huge pile. Some people just set the pile ablaze, while others top it with a big papier mache effigy of Satan first, dressed in a red outfit with black hair and a black beard. Some cities have communal Quema del Diablo bonfires, complete with music and fireworks. Who knew that house cleaning could end with such a party? It’s all about getting rid not only of the trash and the evil that goes along with it, but finding some spiritual cleanliness before the holy holidays arrive.
Spring cleaning checklist
There are few rites of spring more satisfying than the annual clean. For many people, however, the pleasure comes only after the work is finished. Your spring cleaning may never become effortless, but you can make the project more manageable – and even enjoyable. Create a realistic schedule, keeping in mind that a single weekend won’t suffice, as you’ll need several days for more involved projects, such as shampooing carpets and organising closets. Whether you prefer to proceed from the attic to the basement or start outdoors and wind your way inside, focus on one task at a time. And be sure to enlist the help of family members.
Throughout the house
The tips below outline basic techniques that will help you clean almost every surface (or object) in any room. The tasks on the next page are broken down by location, including outdoor spaces. The final page of this foldout focuses on window washing and upkeep, which is essential if you’re going to let the sun shine in on the bright days to come.
Wipe Walls and Ceilings: Use a vacuum to remove dust. Tackle stubborn surface grime, especially prevalent in kitchens, with a solvent-free degreaser (test it first in an inconspicuous area to ensure it won’t mar the surface).
Reseal Grout Lines: The cement-based material between wall, floor, and countertop tiles is extremely porous and stains easily. Protect it with a penetrating grout sealer; it’s best to apply it with a small foam brush.
Vacuum and Shampoo Rugs: Synthetic carpets and rugs with waterproof backings can be deep-cleaned with a rotary shampoo machine and a hot-water extraction machine. Rugs without backings, including Orientals, require professional cleaning.
Dust Books and Shelves: Take everything off the Shelves, and brush shelves and books with a feather dust- er. Use the dust-brush or crevice tool on a vacuum to reach into tight spots. Wipe the spines of leather-bound books with a clean, soft cloth.
Clean Upholstered Furnishings: Take cushions outside and gently beat them by hand to remove dust. If there are stains, check the pieces for care labels. Use a vacuum’s upholstery and crevice tools to clean under seat cushions.
Polish Metal Door and Window Hardware: Liquid polishes and polish-impregnated cloths work well for medi- um-tarnished surfaces; pastes and creams are for heavier work. If tarnish doesn’t come off, try a stronger product.
Dust Your Home Thoroughly: This includes hard-to-reach places, such as the tops of ceiling fans and window casings. Always work from the top of a room down, vacuuming the dust that settles on the floor. Avoid using dusting sprays.
Wax Wooden Furniture: Wipe surfaces with a soft cloth dampened with water and mild dishwashing liquid. Apply paste wax, such as Butch- er’s wax, a few feet at a time with a cotton rag folded into a square pad. Let wax dry; buff with a clean cloth.
Ensure Fire Safety: Change batteries in smoke detec- tors (this should be done twice a year), and make sure units are free of dust. Teach everyone in your household how to use a fire extinguisher, and review escape plans.
Wash Window Screens: Using warm water and a mild dishwashing liquid, scrub each screen with a brush; rinse thoroughly.
Clean Window Treatments: Many draperies and curtains are machine washable; check labels. Dry-clean fab- ric shades. Wipe wooden blinds with a damp cloth; warm water mixed with a mild dishwashing liquid is safe for metal and vinyl blinds.
Wax Non-Wood Floors: Vinyl and linoleum floors that have lost their shine should be waxed with a polish designed for these surfaces. Most stone and tile floors can be treated with either a paste or a liquid wax designed for the material.
(Article source: Various)