Goodbye to winter, hello spring!

Published 12:38 pm Monday, March 18, 2024

By Susan Mah
Lifestyle columnist

Growing up in the South as a biracial person was often a challenge. But with age, I’ve come to appreciate my duality and try my best to honor both sides.

A month ago, I celebrated Chinese New Year and this past weekend, family, friends and I celebrated a European custom involving burning my saved Christmas tree dressed up as a “Winter Witch” to signify the end of winter and the coming of spring.

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Contrary to what one might think, the tradition has absolutely nothing to do with witch trials. It dates back to Germany in the Middle Ages and is still celebrated annually in some European cities, including Prague. It’s considered a fun opportunity to spend an evening by the fire, roasting sausages and singing songs.

Back in the ’80s, my mom learned of this unusual tradition and thought it provided a good excuse for a party. In their heyday, my parents often enjoyed having friends over for elaborate dinner parties. And my mom, in particular, loved those that had themes. Whether it be Christmas, Valentine’s Day or the “Winter Witch,” she’d go all out—designing invitations, sewing placemats and cloth napkins, and making gourmet meals from scratch.  

In preparation for this unique celebration, my dad would make a mask for the witch by drawing a face on a grocery bag, while my mom would dress her up in material bought at Hancock’s in Memphis. As a kid, I remember their friends coming over for the big event, with everyone going outside after dinner to watch the “Winter Witch” set ablaze. We’d be listening to Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and what fun we all had!

Sadly, after my father died, my mom lost most of her zeal for dinner parties, and even for cooking; she just didn’t want to do it without him. And so for many years, this beloved, kooky spring tradition was no more.

During the decade I lived in California, I often thought of resurrecting the “Winter Witch” party, but there starting a fire during a drought could’ve resulted in my being charged with “reckless burning.”

Fast forward to this past weekend. After settling in Oxford out in the country, it seemed the perfect time and place to bring back the “Winter Witch” tradition that started in Europe more than 500 years ago.

Three days before the first day of spring—called the Vernal Equinox, wherein the sun crosses the equator and both day and night are equal in length, my brother and I—just like our parents had years ago—invited friends over for an evening of fellowship, fire and fun.