Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Black Wednesday

I have always been fascinated by tradition and traditions. In that quest, I am ever on the lookout for practices or celebrations to add to my own family's routine. My preferences tend to lean toward those with an ancestral connection to me, but are not limited to those alone.

Of course, any time I hear the word *tradition* I automatically think of the song from Fiddler on the Roof.

This is Holy Week, for those that follow the Christian tradition, leading up to Easter. The days of Lent are winding down to the celebration to come. There is a plethora of cultural traditions, as well as religious traditions, that interest me.

My husband is Czech. In researching Czech traditions, I discovered that today is called Black Wednesday. It has other names, but this one I liked best. Czechs will have spent Monday and Tuesday baking. One reason that the baking had to be finished by Tuesday is that on Wednesday the whole house must be turned out from top to bottom and all the soot cleaned out of the chimneys (hence the name, Black Wednesday). Naturally, this requires that the stove be cold. No time is wasted on the usual kitchen work; the meals are very casual and light. Rugs, sofas, chairs and mattresses are carried into the open and every speck of dust beaten out of them. Women scrub and wax the floors and furniture, wash the windows and the curtains; the home is abuzz with activity. After the interior is fully cleaned, the entire cottage is then also whitewashed on the outside as well. This has to be done quickly as everything has to be back in place by Wednesday night, glossy and shining.

This traditional spring cleaning is, of course, to make the home as neat as possible for the greatest holiday of the year, a custom taken over from the ancient Jewish practice of a ritual cleansing and sweeping of the whole house as prescribed in preparation for the Feast of Passover.

I'm not Moravian, but love the idea of how houses in the PodluĂ­ region blossom with the fleeting flowers of spring painted on the windows with soap or made on the porches or in the yards with water or sand. The window linings, wine cellar, chapel portals and rooms are also decorated with new ornaments.

There is a superstition that anyone eating honey on this day will not be bitten by serpents. In some places, they eat bread smeared with this honey for protection against snakebite. In other places they throw honey-buttered bread into wells so they will have water in them all year round. As a vegan, I wonder if I could use agave nectar instead?

This is the last Wednesday before Easter. On this day everyone is supposed to smile at each other. If they don't, the entire year will be a sad one. It is said that people shouldn't frown on this day for fear of frowning every Wednesday throughout the year! I think this would be a good practice every day, not just today!

So for today, why not give the house a good scrubbing, whether or not you are anticipating Easter? If you can, throw open your windows, and get out your cleaning supplies. I don't use harsh chemicals - I don't like the way they smell or their impact on the environment. Some things I do:

Oven cleaning - sprinkle baking soda along the bottom and spray with water from a spray bottle. Let sit. Scrub. If the oven is particularly dirty, let the baking soda sit overnight.

Sink drain cleaner/deodorizer - sprinkle a cup of baking soda down the drain, and follow it with boiling water. I like to clean my teakettle by filling it with half water and half white vinegar and bring it to a boil. I then dump this down the kitchen drain after the baking soda. If your sink backs up after this, don't panic. It just means you had some gunk clogging the drain. Once the baking soda dissolves, your drain will clear. This is a good thing to do weekly, to help keep things clear.

Baking soda is my friend. I use it to scrub my sinks and counters, as well. You can also sprinkle it on your carpets and upholstered furniture to freshen them before vacuuming. I will mix up baking soda with an essential oil, like lemon or peppermint to use on my carpets and upholstery. Just adds a little bit of nice. Be absolutely certain to get it vacuumed up, though, if you have cats. Essential oils can be harmful to cats, so I take no chances. All I have to do is wheel the vacuum cleaner into a room and they scatter.

Wipe down walls and brush out corners. It surprises me how walls can get dirty even when there are no little children with mucky hands.

I mop my kitchen floor with ½ cup white vinegar in a gallon of water. This is a safe way to clean hardwood, laminate or tile floors. Studies have shown that 5% solution of vinegar (straight out of the store-bought bottle) kills 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold, and 80 percent of germs (viruses). It is non-toxic and the smell dissipates much more quickly than chemical cleaners.

So have at it! Be clean and green and hopefully not soot covered, and enjoy the clean feel and smell of your home!

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