Spring comes early to the Deep South. Mid-February usually brings daffodils and the budding of flowering trees. By early March, the dogwoods and redbuds are bursting into bloom followed closely by flowering bulbs and azaleas. While Northern neighbors are busy shoveling snow from the latest blizzard, Southern gardeners greet the arrival of spring with joy and exuberance. My father always has his vegetable garden well underway by Good Friday; which traditionally signals the threat of frost has passed and it is time to plant tomato seedlings. Although spring is a bit later this year due to some unusually cold weather, the typical rites of spring are well under way.
In my hometown of Natchez, Mississippi, local garden clubs have been preparing for the annual Spring Pilgrimage for months. In this five-week event beginning in March, twenty-four antebellum mansions, many of them private residences, open their doors to visitors. Since 1932, when the tradition of Pilgrimage first began, Hostesses attired in lavish antebellum costumes have welcomed visitors to tour these homes. In addition, Spring Pilgrimage offers special entertainment. The Historic Natchez Pageant, presented by over 200 local performers of all ages in elaborate costumes, recreates the romanticized eras of old. Southern Road to Freedom is a stirring musical tribute by the Holy Family Choir to the African-American experience in Natchez from the Colonial period to the present-day; and Southern Exposure is a hilarious spoof on the homes, homeowners, and tourists of Pilgrimage.
It is this shared history of diverse cultures; American Indian, Afro-American and European, which brings history to life, and makes Spring Pilgrimage in Natchez such a unique and memorable experience.