The changing of the seasons brings deeply ingrained cleansing traditions around the world, from cleaning the home top to bottom to purifying the soul. These rituals from around the world show that cleaning isn’t purely practical – it’s a way of refocusing and creating space, physically and mentally, for whatever’s next.
On the eve of Thailand’s Songkran festival, a three-day New Year celebration, homes are cleaned and unwanted junk burned to create a clean slate. Buddha statues are removed from altars and cleansed with perfumed, petal-infused water. Over time, it became customary for Thais to collect this water to use in their own blessing ceremonies – trickling and splashing it over family members for good luck – and this tradition eventually evolved into the water-fight extravaganza Songkran is now famous for: three days of convivial water-pistol shoot-outs and bucket-dousings on the streets of Thailand.
End of January
When we throw open a window, declutter our closets and take a sudsy mop to the floor, we are turning over a new leaf. In the lead-up to Chinese Lunar New Year, people perform a preparatory cleaning of their space, sweeping away the dust and debris of the past 12 months to symbolically make room for good fortune to come. But it’s very important that the tidying session be wrapped up by the stroke of midnight – any cleaning on New Year’s Day itself is said to sweep away good luck.
Several Middle Eastern countries
March 19, 20 or 21
The Persian holiday of Nowruz, observed in Iran (as well as many other countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and Kazakhstan), is a New Year’s celebration that’s preceded by a huge spring cleaning. The Iranian calendar is a solar calendar that honors the seasons. Nowruz falls on the spring equinox in March and translates, fittingly, as “new day.”
To mark this moment of renewal, belongings are sifted and sorted, floors are scrubbed, and dusty rugs are hung outside and beaten. This sometimes begins weeks before the equinox to ensure enough time is dedicated to this process of shedding the old and welcoming in the new.
Celebrated by Jews worldwide
Begins on the 15th day of Nisan (the seventh month of the Jewish calendar) and lasts seven or eight days
Many Jewish people prepare for Passover by cleansing the home of all grain-based, leavened products, or chametz – items including bread, cereals, pastries and pasta. For Ashkenazi Jews the consumption of rice, legumes and corn is also prohibited during Passover, and these items must be removed from the house. This tradition derives from the story of Passover, in which the Israelites – newly emancipated from slavery – fled Egypt before their bread had begun to rise.
In the lead-up to the holiday, every crumb of leavened food must be removed from cupboards, tables, the fridge and that tricky-to-reach crease of the sofa. Some people even wipe down light switches to catch infinitesimal leaven residue left by sticky fingers. Once the cleaning has been completed, the kosher feast – which generally includes unleavened, flat matzo bread – can commence.
Practiced across the Americas
Despite its association with bougie yoga studios, burning white sage and palo santo (aromatic “holy wood” from the Bursera graveolens tree) to purify a space is actually an ancient spiritual practice. Indigenous communities across the Americas believe smoke from burnt sage and palo santo removes bad energy from people and spaces.
A 2007 study proved that burning “medicinal plants” was shown to reduce counts of aerial bacteria by 94 percent after an hour, and the air remained cleaner for 24 hours if doors and windows were kept closed. Setting a bundle of sage ablaze for a smudging session is a science-backed way to purify your home.
To celebrate the arrival of spring, Culture Trip explores themes of revolution, rebirth and renewal across the world.