Do people in every culture feel the sudden urge to clean in springtime?

"Must spring clean, must spring clean ..."
"Must spring clean, must spring clean ..."
Siri Stafford/Lifesize

Spring's the time of year when people feel the need to tackle big cleaning projects, indoors and out. I'm pretty relaxed about my cleaning routine, but even I feel the urge to pull out the fridge and vacuum off its coils. Do we clean less in the winter because the cold and gloom make us lethargic? Or is it because we spend more time indoors and eat heavier foods? Is it good old-fashioned guilt?

When the temperatures get warm enough to venture outside without a jacket, you might feel compelled to do a deep cleaning of your home, too. Before you get to scrubbing, though, let's ponder whether people all over the world are doing their own version of "spring cleaning" -- either around the same time of year if they live in the Northern hemisphere or in September in the Southern hemisphere.

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The American notion of spring cleaning -- moving furniture, cleaning carpets, cleaning out the garage -- is literal and usually rooted in very little other than the need to physically get one's house in order. Western spring cleaning traditions are rooted in these, such as the cleaning rituals before Passover and Chinese New Year. They also come from a time when, in all honesty, our houses were dirtier in general. Before furnaces, you heated your house with a wood-burning stove or even with a fireplace. If it was really cold, they might be burning almost all of the time. You also had to seal up every crack and crevice.

Those two factors meant that your house probably got really sooty and gross. When you were able to open up those windows and let the fresh air in, you were also probably eager to get out all of that crud and muck. (But you also have to keep in mind that only recently have people started bathing every day, so take the cleanliness thing with a grain of salt.)

If you think of spring cleaning in a looser or different sense of the term, then yes, people from every walk of life have some sort of spring cleaning ritual.

Mopping Optional

Maybe your "spring cleaning" for the year involves getting healthier?
Maybe your "spring cleaning" for the year involves getting healthier?
Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

The phrase "spring cleaning" has come to mean more than just cleaning your house. Sometimes, people use the time to put their finances in order or to get healthier. It's also about rebirth and renewal, so others take the opportunity to clear away the "clutter" in their minds and spirits. Ever heard the phrase "cleanliness is next to godliness"? Often, the season coincides with the beginning of a new year, depending on where people live. New year, new season -- it's time to do all kinds of housecleaning!

So while not everybody feels the need to purge their attic of old junk (assuming they have drapes and attics), there are plenty of spring cleaning rituals around the world. Two out of the big three monotheistic religions in the world have them. People of the Jewish faith incorporate both the physical cleaning and spiritual cleansing during Passover as they celebrate the ancient Israelites' Exodus from Egypt. Many Christians observe Lent, a period of about 40 days before Easter, which is traditionally a time of spiritual cleansing and renewal of faith.

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Not to be outdone, some Eastern religions also have "spring cleaning" holidays. The holiday Rama Navami is all about the message of dharma -- righteousness in thoughts and deeds. It celebrates the birth of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, considered by Hindus to be the embodiment of the perfect person. People do clean their homes, but they also clear their minds through fasting in order to focus on Rama's teachings.

Buddhists in Japan observe Higan-e on the first day of spring. The word Higan is a euphemism for nirvana and means "the other shore." Observers of this tradition ponder going from the current "shore" of suffering to the peace of enlightenment. Instead of an emphasis on house cleaning, the Buddhist Japanese also clean and decorate the graves of their ancestors.

It's impossible to say whether people in "every" culture engage in some kind of cleaning ritual in the springtime, but there are lots of them all over the world who do. It might not be what you think of as spring cleaning, but it's cleaning all the same.

Author's Note

Before I started researching this article and other articles on spring cleaning, I have to admit that I hadn't given it much thought beyond the actual cleaning part. But once I started looking at different holidays and festivals around the world that took place during the spring, I realized that it doesn't always mean the act of cleaning your house in a literal sense. Of course, it's not possible to say whether all cultures do some kind of spring cleaning, but there usually seems to be something going on.

Personally, I'm not as great about the house cleaning, but I definitely do think about changing up my health routine when spring comes. And with tax time coming up, finances are also at the forefront of my mind. I like the idea of reinterpreting "spring cleaning" to mean all different kinds of cleaning, though. It takes the pressure off me to have a shiny, clean house, but I can also happily tell people that yes, I've been spring cleaning too!

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Sources

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