Easter is only a few weeks away. Being early this year, it will most likely be cold. April 1 in Toronto tends to be that way.
About six years ago, around this time of year, I planted a pussy willow tree in my garden. It started off as a stick, roughly 12 inches long and an inch across. It would be an experiment to see if it would actually grow into a tree.
Within a few months, it began to show shoots of little green branches. Month after month, it grew.
Within a year, my stick started to resemble a very small tree. Some years later, it stands about 20 feet high and five feet across. Magnificent!
Around this time every year, we begin to see the characteristic fuzzy buds begin to pop from the branches. Many think the first signs of spring are the crocus flowers or perennial bushes that peek out of the ground.
But our pussy willow tree will have the first buds to appear, every year. It’s a true leader.
According to the website Fun Flower Facts, pussy willows are often displayed in homes for Chinese New Year, symbolizing growth and prosperity in the new year. They are also used as decoration on Palm Sunday at Easter.
At our Ukrainian Catholic church, instead of using palm leaves to be blessed on Palm Sunday, we have pussy willow branches. The Encyclopedia Of Ukraine tells us that the Sunday before Easter, is also called, Willow Sunday.
Pussy willows were used because in Ukraine they thrived in the climate as opposed to palms.
The tradition with Ukrainians is that they tap each other on the head and shoulders, reciting the following wish, “Be as tall as the willow, as healthy as the water, and as rich as the earth.” Or another playful verse, which goes something like, “The willow is hitting you, I’m not hitting you, a week from today is Easter.” Personally, the former is more inspirational and friendly.
My beloved pussy willow tree is serving up the notice that spring truly is around the corner. Slowly the other horticultural species will catch-up.