At this time of year, I usually bring a few forsythia branches indoors, standing them in jugs around around the house. I like the splashes of yellow they make. Yellow is so Spring, so Easter! The unusually cold weather this year, though, has meant there is no forsythia in bud yet, at least not in West Yorkshire where I live. We’ve had what the Americans sometimes call a ‘dogwood winter’, which means an unexpected wintry snap in spring.
The term reminds of an old Good Friday folktale featuring the Dogwood. According to legend the Dogwood used to be much bigger than it is today, easily dwarfing the other trees in the sparse countryside around Jerusalem. Its wood was, and still is, hard and strong enough to be favoured by wood carvers. Because of this, the Roman soldiers selected a Dogwood tree to make a cross for Jesus.
The tree was bitterly ashamed of her involvement with Jesus’ death and, when the Christ rose from the dead, she begged him not to let anyone use her in the execution of another human being again. Jesus complied with her wish, transforming her into a shrub with thin branches that would not be enough to make a gibbet. Her flowers changed too, taking on the shape of a cross. Each petal bore a rusty indentation, as if someone had taken a nail and hammer to them. The stamens in the middle grew to look like Jesus’ crown of thorns, which turn to blood-red berries in memory of Christ’s suffering.
It’s a story that had me enchanted as a kid and made me try to find symbolism in other flowers. My search was quite successful too. Our gardens and meadows are full of allusions to legend and folklore. I’ll be writing more about the subject as the spring progresses. Meanwhile, I have a couple of Hot Cross buns in the kitchen waiting to be toasted and buttered….Happy Easter, all.