It has felt like a very long winter. We endured the wettest March for 40 years after weeks of deep snow and frost in January and February. The gloom set in last November and has barely lifted: drawing the curtains of a morning has been to welcome another day of flat, grey skies.
And yet, the whispers of spring are upon us. Listen, and you’ll hear the brave tremor of birdsong. Our streets are filling with blossom – blackthorn first, but also the deepening hues of cherry and quince trees. The windier days scatter the petals on the wet pavements: nature’s confetti. And we celebrate longer days now the clocks have sprung forward. Head to the park before dinner and you’ll notice a shift: people out walking their dogs, or letting their children burn off energy before bathtime. How we’ve needed this blast of sunshine, how long we’ve waited for it. It feels, finally, like something new is afoot.
Spring has long been associated with a time of renewal. In Japan, where hanami, or the celebration of cherry blossom, is a national pastime, the academic year begins in April: generations of children have been photographed in box-fresh school uniform against candyfloss-like trees. From Passover to Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, many religions have built the return of spring into their calendar. Reach back into Pagan tradition and you’ll find three separate spring celebrations: Imbolc, in early February, to acknowledge the first lightening of winter; Ostara with the vernal equinox, when the length of both day and night are the same and, later, Beltane, heralding May’s abundance and that of the summer to come. The English word for Easter comes from either the Latin word for dawn (aurora), as one theory goes, or from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility (Ostara, also known as Ēostre), according to another.
Whatever belief system you ascribe to, it’s near-impossible to avoid the sense of positivity and new life that creeps in around the edges of the everyday at this time of year. Crocuses smother verges in purple and saffron-yellow, daffodils jaunt up roadsides and the lawns of housing estates. We are caught out by the sunshine and end up having to carry our coats.
It also provides a second chance, after the hype of new year, to take stock, make changes and try a more gentle kind of reset. It’s easier, after all, to fulfil a resolution to go running or play tennis when there are more hours of daylight and the weather is kinder.
Outside, the world is waking up. Whether you have a green space to tend to or not, there’s plenty to bear witness to. Look for the bright green of new leaves on the skeletons of trees and the fattening of flower buds. Keep an eye out for more frenzied activity among the birds, who will be mating, nesting and feeding as the breeding season kicks off. Even the most overlooked early wildflowers will be providing vital nectar for bees.
Easter gives us a moment to relish these things. Four long days with far less pressure than Christmas but an undeniable reason to celebrate. In gathering our loved ones, decking the table with spring flowers – a handful of daffs will do – and buttering a hot cross bun, we follow traditions that have been forged over centuries.
Five Easter resolutions to make this weekend
The most obvious of springtime resolutions, but one of the most powerful: shed some layers and spend time outdoors. A 2019 study of more than 19,000 people published in the journal Scientific Reports found that spending two hours a week in nature had a significant positive effect on health and wellbeing. Another study by King’s College London found that hearing birdsong has a positive impact on mental health. Increased exposure to sunshine and natural light also increases your Vitamin D intake, which is linked to improved mood.
Reset your circadian rhythm
Sleep suffers in winter and we feel more lethargic when sunshine is in short supply. Light exposure affects our circadian rhythm (our inbuilt body clock), so if you’ve been feeling sluggish or not well rested, use spring to reset. Start by picking the time you need to wake up and moving it 20 minutes earlier each day to reach your goal, and inching your bedtime earlier each day over the course of a week so you get the sleep you need. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day is key for keeping your circadian rhythm in check, says Dr Guy Meadows, clinical director of the Sleep School. A dose of natural light soon after you wake up will help you feel more alert (studies have shown that 30 minutes of light exposure in the morning improves your memory and reaction times) and help you sleep better the following night.
Conduct a “joy audit”
While New Year’s resolutions are often about restriction and abstention, spring is the time to focus on “aspirations, rather than resolutions,” says Dr Marianne Trent, a clinical psychologist. She suggests a “joy audit” to get fully into the spirit of spring, “because life is supposed to be at least reasonably enjoyable,” she says. “Think about where you’re getting joy from: family, your intimate life, work, leisure pursuits, and whether they’re as full as you might want them to be … and if there are one or two areas that are lagging behind, are there tweaks you could make?”
Try “habit stacking”
There’s probably a reason those New Year’s resolutions always seem to fall by the wayside – we often try to do too much all at once. Trent advises clients to “habit stack”: essentially breaking down goals into bite-size chunks and focusing on small, achievable steps in the right direction.
Consider your purpose
Spring has always signified rebirth and renewal; the first signs of spring feel particularly refreshing this year after a long, bleak winter. Harness the power of spring, with the increased motivation and renewed optimism that comes with it, to consider the meaning of life and what you want from it over the coming season.