It seems to be a natural human instinct to create holidays to celebrate the turning of the seasons. The modern pagan calendar marks not only the quarter-days (solstices and equinoxes) but also the cross-quarter days that fall in between, making one holiday to mark the start of every season and another to mark its midpoint. The Christian calendar includes its great winter and spring festivals, and the Jewish calendar ushers in fall with the High Holy Days. Even allegedly secular holidays get roped into the act. The official "summer" season, defined as "the period when it's okay to wear white shoes," is bounded by Memorial Day on one end and Labor Day on the other, even though neither holiday technically has anything to do with the time of year. And the change from fall to winter is unofficially pegged to Thanksgiving weekend, even though that weekend's weather—at least here in the Mid-Atlantic states—is sometimes as balmy as June.
But there doesn't seem to be any holiday that marks the official start of spring. Sure, we have the religious festivals of Easter and Passover, but they move around the calendar so much that it's hard to pin the season to either one. We even start looking for signs of spring in February with Groundhog Day, even though there may still be a foot of snow on the ground. But it doesn't matter what we do; spring just comes when it comes. It's marked by events that don't appear on any calendar: the melting of snow, the appearance of snowdrops and crocuses, the first day it's warm enough to go out without a coat. We can't predict to a day when these events will happen—but they are holidays, all the same. They are festivals, days to celebrate, whenever they arrive.
So I hereby declare today, February 18, 2011, to be First Washday—the first day it's been warm enough to hang a load of laundry up on the line. There was a vague threat of possible showers in the weather report, but I wouldn't let that deter me. Today is First Washday, and I intend to give the event all the honor it deserves. It may be back below freezing by tomorrow night; it may even snow again on Monday or Tuesday; but none of that can change the fact that First Washday has come at last, and a joyous occasion it is.