|A ‘first footer’, greeting the Spring with an affectionate kiss.|
|Despite the onset of Spring, the weather in Bulgaria can remain very poor at this time of year – so this enterprising Bulgarian lady has taken advantage of the first footing ceremony to keep dry in the rain!|
In the town of Åasblød in Norway, the Spring Festival of the Birch takes place on this day. All the men of the town who turned 18 in the previous year swim naked in the lake in the morning. Then, naked and cold, they run to a lodge in the forest. There, ladies who turned 18 in the prevous year, together with those turning 28, 38 and 48, have been gathered since the evening before, fashioning fine bundles of rods from the proud forests around. The men are secured tightly over logs and birched vigorously, in a process that usually starts in an orderly fashion with the ladies forming a queue in front of each male, but often typically degenerates into mayhem, as bits of birch fly everywhere and the air fills with the shrieks of flogged males and the delightful murmur of female laughter and conversation.
Once all the rods have been used up, a white cloth is pressed to the backside of each of the secured males, to produce an impression in blood to recall the day. This memento is kept safe, and usually presented to a bride by her groom on a wedding night, as part of the ‘Marriage night ritual of the birch’. As a matter of fact, the birch tree is the centrepiece of much of the cultural life of Åasblød, with no fewer than 17 festivals over the course of the year devoted to this noble plant.
In South Africa it’s not actually Spring, because it’s in the southern hemisphere. Nevertheless, on or around this date, a tradition has developed in recent years called “Apology Day”. A powerful figure from the apartheid regime is selected, as are several representatives of the new, young, multiracial South Africa. This year, Capetown’s former police chief is the main participant, and the photo below shows him with two of the youngsters selected to engage in dialogue with him about the apartheid era. Interestingly, although he will be free to go once the day is over, he might well emulate his predecessors in choosing to go into domestic service for one or more of his young examiners, presumably out of a sense of remorse.
|Young citizens prepare for Apology Day, along with this year’s lucky ‘volunteer’ for atonement.|
In Iceland, men are released from chastity and allowed to come on this day. Then they are locked up again. There’s no great ceremony around it, but if you’re visiting Iceland on business or on holiday, it’s worth considering going at this time of year (or the Autumn Solstice of course) as it can provide a welcome moment of relief from Iceland’s otherwise strict chastity laws. If you’re staying in a hotel, the chambermaid will probably have your key but you should always ask at reception the night before, to ensure you don’t miss out.
|Welcome to Iceland. Hold still now.|
* note for new readers: little-known because completely untrue – see the disclaimer to the right about the veracity of information presented on this blog.