Every year at around this time, our neighbours' huge family gather with a few friends, among whom I have the privilege to be counted, to do a Czech traditional Spring ritual. It involves making an effigy of Winter, and taking it to the river, where it is burnt and thrown down stream.
And so it was yesterday, too: the family own a fabulous early-renaissance mill right outside Cesky Krumlov, which they've had for 30 years or so, but is it still in a comfortably delapidated state that makes it desperately attractive and homely (one of those 'ahh, I wish...' sort of places, of which, I am sure, I shall be writing much more as time goes by). Anyway, here they all were: old, young, toddlers, dogs, cats, goats, food and drink, musical instruments.... The effigy is a combined effort, it gets made and dressed, its face painted fearsome and ugly, and it is given a necklace of painted eggs. Then, accompanied by singing and dancing, the crowd, bearing fresh twigs with ribbons, takes it to the river, where it is ceremonially lit.
More singing, and the burning Winter is thrown into the water,
chivvied on its way downstream by 'Out out out, let the Spring come in' (except it rhymes in Czech :-) of course ) Then everyone dances back into the Mill, waving their fresh twigs, which they'll take home and put in a vase to watch their buds open in a day or two.
The family keep photos of this event that go back 30 years, and it is moving to see the patriarch in his prime, and the babies on the old photos now being women in their 30s with children of their own, yet still doing the same things, singing the same songs, year by year.
May their yearly rituals, like the changing seasons, go on forever.