Starting the “spring semester” in January always feels a little mean. It’s clearly not spring yet, and even if it’s coming, it seems exceptionally far away in the depths of a Midwestern February’s gloom and slush. Calling it the “winter semester” might be kinder; we could be pleasantly surprised when we actually see sunlight and blooms rather than depressively expectant as we wait for them to arrive.
The Romanians have a lovely tradition of celebrating the arrival of spring on 1 March: Mărțișor, a diminutive of March (Martie). Whether Roman or Dacian in origin, people continue the tradition of exchanging small tokens tied with red and white threads to wish others good health and good luck as winter fades away and spring begins to bloom. Street markets are blooming in the squares of Cluj as the first haze of green begins to tint the landscape, selling hundreds of different tokens as well as jewelry, pottery, candles, not to mention all manner of traditional food. Walking through the markets, it’s impossible not to keep walking through the city, exploring twisty streets as you soak up the sunshine.
The spring semester starts here at the beginning of March, too. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. A new semester is a new start – and that feels particularly promising when the sun is established in the sky as you walk to class at 8am without the smell of wood fires lingering in the air. The Romanian system allows for an actual break between the semesters – longer for me, luckily, as I didn’t deal with examinations last semester – giving everyone enough time away to regroup and restart. This semester, I’m teaching new classes, with (mostly) new students, who are meeting a new professor, in order to study a new subject. It’s easier to be optimistic about that when the whole world feels shiny.
I’ve always looked forward to spring but, this year, here in Romania, I think I finally felt the concept of spring as rebirth. There is something paganistically renewing about emerging from a dark, grey, frigid winter into the sunshine of an Eastern European spring, whether you’re eating apple plăcintă in a town square under clear blue skies, walking through sunny cobblestoned streets beside 15th century city walls or standing in a sun-warmed classroom with sunny-eyed students.