Snow fell last night. I tried to talk Ariane into not cycling into work, but she was having nothing of it so we wrapped up warm, gritted our teeth and rode into the snow. There wasn’t any wind and the sun was shining so in the end it was a very pleasant and refreshing run into work. I hadn’t expected to need the gloves and hat again this year. This isn’t supposed to happen with May just around the corner – or is it?
An old “Bauernregel” (Farmer’s Rule) says that you can only count on there being no more frost when the “Eisheiligen” (Ice Saints) have passed. The Eisheiligen are 5 days in the middle of May which are named after various saints. Apparently it’s not uncommon for us to have a real sub-zero cold snap this late in the year at all. Still, it catches us out every year and is nonetheless an unpleasant surprise.
So why are a few cold days named after saints? Actually, every single day in the calendar is named after somebody over here – either a saint or other holy person. If you like celebrating, this is good news. Everyone has a birthday, but also a Namenstag (name day). My Namenstag is either 24th February (Matthias) or 21st September (Matthäus) depenindg on how I spell my name in German. In some rural areas, up until fairly recently, the Namenstag was considered more important than the birthday.
So at some stage a few farmers realised that a certain group of 5 days in May were likely to be really icy so they bunched them up and called them the Eisheiligen. The same thing exists in quite a few European countries – in France they are called les Saints de glaces. The last of the icy days is named after Sophia – an early christian virgin martyr* in Rome
. Over here she is known as “kalte Sophie”. Once kalte Sophie has passed, you can safely put the plants back out with no risk of frost.
So now that you know all about the Eisheiligen, it’s time to explain the “Bauernregel” I mentioned earlier. Literally translated as Farmer’s Rule, it is better explained as a country saying, or folk saying. “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight” would be a good example in English. Some of these Bauernregeln are serious but there are quite a few nonsense ones too. The serious ones are usually about what kind of a summer or harvest to expect when a certain day is hot or cold. The nonsense ones are much better. My personal favourite is “Regen in Mai, April vorbei” – If it rains in May, April is over. And who said the Germans don’t have a sense of humour.
*she doesn’t sound like much fun – so the name cold Sophie seems quite appropriate.