CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Get Swept Away By These 8 Facts About Spring Cleaning

iStock
iStock

Spring is in the air—and so is the smell of lemon- and "sunshine meadow"-scented cleaning products. With the onslaught of reminders that spring is the time to give winter-worn dwellings a vigorous scrubdown, it can sometimes seem like the concept of a "spring clean" was invented to sell vacuums to guilt-ridden adults, the same way Valentine’s Day was invented to peddle chocolates and teddy bears to … guilt-ridden adults. But it turns out the custom of spring cleaning is actually much older than the dawn of modern cleaning supplies; the clean routine has roots around the world in religious customs that have existed for thousands of years.

1. PASSOVER MAY BE ONE OF THE OG SPRING CLEANS …

In the days leading up to Passover, the spring holiday during which leavened food, or chametz, is strictly forbidden, Jews traditionally clean their homes as a way to rid their spaces of any leftover traces of chametz from the preceding months. These days, busy New Yorkers observing Passover can hire a service to take care of the pre-holiday cleaning for them.sp;

2. … BUT ANCIENT PERSIANS SPRING CLEANED THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, TOO.

Then there’s the Ancient Persian festival of Nowruz, commemorating the Persian New Year that occurs on the vernal equinox, which is widely regarded as the first day of spring (usually on or around March 20). In the days leading up to Nowruz, ritual house cleaning called kooneh tekouni, or “shaking of the house” is practiced in preparation for the coming year. The celebration dates back more than 3000 years and is now primarily celebrated as a secular holiday in Iran and as a holy day in Zoroastrian communities.

3. THE THEME OF PRE-NEW YEAR'S CLEANING EXISTS IN CHINESE TRADITION, TOO.

Cleaning religious statues ahead of the Lunar New Year in Bali // Getty


Chinese New Year festivities can fall anywhere between late January and late February, depending on the lunar calendar, and the day after the Chinese New Year is widely regarded as the first official day of spring. Leading up to the Chinese New Year is a holiday called Ninyabaat, which typically falls on the 28th day of the 12thmonth of the Lunar calendar. According to the Cantonese saying, “Wash away the dirt on ninyabaat,” this day is designated for cleaning—a symbolic way to sweep away the bad luck of the previous year and prepare the home to receive the good luck of the coming New Year. In traditional Buddhist and Taoist dwellings, home statues and altars are given special care—in the days leading up to the New Year, old altar ornaments are burned and replaced with fresh decorations. Finally, on the first day of the New Year, brooms and dustpans are put away so that the coming year’s good luck can’t be swept away.

4. IN COLDER CLIMES, FIREPLACES MADE SPRING CLEANING NECESSARY.

Spring cleaning’s more secular iterations tie back to the hearth—when homes were heated by a fireplace and lit by candles, spring provided an opportunity to clear the home of leftover soot and wax. In the days long before the vacuum cleaner, spring was the time to air the house of its collected dust; the warm temperatures meant windows could finally be opened, allowing the breeze to carry away any filth that had accumulated over the winter months. But just because these cleanings weren’t religiously motivated doesn’t mean they were any less thorough; in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861, the "Periodical Cleanings” section recommends the following: 

“…[i]t is usual to begin at the top of the house and clean downwards; moving everything out of the room; washing the wainscoting or paint with soft soap and water; pulling down the beds and thoroughly cleansing all the joints; ‘scrubbing’ the floor; beating feather beds, mattresses, and paillasse, and thoroughly purifying every article of furniture before it is put back in place. . . This general cleaning usually takes place in the spring or early summer, when the warm curtains of winter are replaced by the light and cheerful muslin curtains. The same thorough system of cleaning should be done throughout the house; the walls cleaned where painted, and swept down with a soft broom or feather brush where papered; the window and bed curtains, which have been replaced with muslin ones, carefully brushed, or, if they require it, cleaned; lamps not likely to be required, washed out with hot water, dried, and cleaned.”

5. SERVANTS CAME IN HANDY.

Getty

While the intense cleanings described in Beeton’s guide were meant to be carried out by the servants of large estates, the majority of the era’s spring cleaning duties fell to the common woman. In an 1850 journal entry, featured in a 2000 Smithsonian exhibit on the history of housekeeping, women's rights activist Lydia Maria Child recounts that she, “[s]wept and dusted sitting-room & kitchen 350 times. Filled lamps 362 times. Swept and dusted chamber & stairs 40 times." Without the aid of modern day cleaning products, homemakers and “help” alike leaned heavily on a combination of elbow grease and household solutionslike lemon juice (used to clean colored marble), tea leaves (sprinkled damp over rugs to absorb odors), and even gin (suggested in a 1850 servant’s manual as a way to polish mirrors).  

6. THE PRECURSORS OF THE PRODUCTS WE USE TODAY EMERGED AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY.

1940s Hoover ad // Getty

The first motorized vacuum cleaner was invented in 1901; Lysol brand disinfectant, first introduced in late-19th century Europe, gained popularity in 1918 as a way to combat the spread of the Spanish flu. Even plain old soap underwent a transformation around this time—with the shortage in fats and oils caused by World Wars I and II, synthetic detergentswere introduced and subsequently shot up in popularity, surpassing the sales of normal soap by 1953.

7. THE BELIEF THAT THINGS ARE ONLY CLEAN IF THEY SMELL LIKE LEMON IS, AT THIS POINT, CULTURALLY INGRAINED.

Despite the advances in cleaning technologies, some of the mainstays of spring cleaning have remained the same. For example, the scents used in cleaning products have carried over from their most basic beginnings, leading to a prevalence of lemon-scented cleaners. “We like a ‘clean’ smell, which is not the smell of an absence of dirt but the smell of whatever chemicals are in the cleaning product we use,” Lucy Lethbridge, author of Spit and Polish: Old-Fashioned Ways to Banish Dirt, Dust and Decay, and Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, tells the Express. “We’ve made it all rather complicated with a dozen different chemical sprays, for bathrooms, for kitchens, for wooden furniture, for windows ... which could be happily replaced by a gallon container of distilled vinegar costing about £3.50 [around $5]—and all without the synthetic odor of artificial pine.”

8. SPRING CLEANING MAKES BIOLOGICAL SENSE, TOO.

The darkness of winter creates a boost in the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that causes sleepiness. With the arrival of spring, the increase in sunlight and decrease in melatonin gives us a natural energy boost, so it’s completely possible that the urge to clean in the springtime may simply stem from the body’s desire to simply get up and do stuff. According to Psychology Today, there’s a physical payoff to a cleaning as well: Clutter becomes an unnecessary, overwhelming stimulus that adds to stress and decreases physical activity. Neater spaces, by contrast, increase physical activity, as well as creativity and even the urge to eat more healthily. (Consider that the next time you're procrastinating breaking out the broom.) Happy scrubbing!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
A Brief History of Black Friday
iStock
iStock

The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hess Corporation
arrow
Pop Culture
A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
Hess Corporation
Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios