Carpets of crocus, daffodils trumpeting the new season -- winter is over and we have come through.
The rites of spring that celebrate the fact range from a day spent flying kites to a lovers' lunch in the park to the rowdy Fru hjahrsbierfest: Munich's festival in praise of beer. Bock, of course, which sensible people know to be the perfect spring tonic.
Right this minute, pick up the telephone and invite four or five friends to a kite jamboree at a park near your house. The shop at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum has a long-tailed kite decorated with a prancing unicorn, very romantic for $8.50; or a phoenix for $6.50.
They also have more traditional kites, as well as a menacing shark for $21 -- but that doesn't seem quite right for a season celebrating rebirth.
After the kites have darted through the springtime sky and tangled in a springtime tree, bring everyone back to your house for the first barbecue of the season. Do it while the late afternoon sun still offers some warmth, and do not waste time with elaborate or sophisticated dishes. This is a return to childhood: hot dogs, hamburgers and ice-cream cones. Leave a jackknife lying about, or a bag of marbles, and see how many of your friends remember the intricacies of mumblety peg, and who is champion at knocking other marbles out of the ring.
Lunchtime in the park is much nicer than eating inside and trying to catch the attention of a waiter who wishes he were outside. Pack a box lunch: asparagus with mayonnaise, thin slices of lamb rolled around chutney (not too runny or it will drip down into your lap), new potatoes, tiny strawberry tarts, a bottle of wine. All things that can be managed without knife or fork, and invite your favorite person to share it.
If you are in the grip of a grand passion and sufficiently in pocket to pay for it, open the Yellow Pages to the listing for Musicians and hire someone to hover nearby, playing soft and lovely songs on the violin.
Many of the things we associate with spring -- the first tender peas, asparagus spears, strawberries -- are not local at all. Spring is when you plant the peas, not pick them, and though the chives are up, most springtime produce comes from California.
But one springtime dish that is local is shad, and a dinner of planked shad is an area tradition. Oil the plank with salad oil, heat it in a 450-degree oven and put the shad, skin side down, on the plank. Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper and melted butter and bake it for 15 minutes, before reducing the heat to 350 degrees. It will take about another 10 to 15 minutes before the fish is flaky, but check occasionally.
Planked fish looks particularly nice surrounded by duchesse potatoes, and if you'd like to add California asparagus, peas or spinach and end the meal with a rhubarb pie, it's unlikely anyone will complain that the garden they came from was not yours. (Cannon's, 1065 31st St. NW, has boned shad for $5.20 a pound, as well as the roe.
Short of singing and dancing in the rain, the best springtime entertainments have to do with love. Unless you have gathered together a group of shrinking violets (other springtime favorites), ask each guest to write a love poem, or an ode to spring, to be read over brandy. An evening devoted to words of love will make a pleasant change from discussing the deficit.
Spring isn't all tenderness; it can be bawdy as well, and the spring celebration of bock beer is a raucous one. Washington lacks the old-fashioned beer halls and beer gardens that the German immigrants set up in cities like New York or Chicago, so you will have to create your own. In Germany, the beer fests begin on St. Joseph's Day (tomorrow) and seem to continue on forever.
Trot down to the German Deli, 1331 H St. NW, and load up on fresh or smoked bratwurst, knockwurst, weisswurst, on cheeses and mustards and loaves of dark rye bread or pumpernickel, enough to feed a rowdy, foot-stamping, spring-struck crowd. Or serve sauerbraten, red cabbage, potato pancakes and apple strudel -- there's still a month or two to slim back down before it's time to climb into a bathing suit.
You can buy a variety of bock beers from Berose Liquors, 1711 17th St. NW, where Mark Weiner is making it a point of pride to get hold of every beer anyone's ever heard of, among them: Augsburger Bock from Texas; Ringness and Aass from Norway; E.K.U.'s maibock and doppelbocks from Germany, and the strongest beer in the world, E.K.U.'s Kulminator, which has an alcoholic strength of 13.2 percent.
To get into the spirit of a proper beer fest, add an oom-pah band and encourage your friends to bump their way through a polka. Oh, and tether a goat outside your front door. Bock, after all, is German for goat.