Country Sayings - Superstition or Phenological Research?

Farmers have always been exposed to the weather. To know when to carry out the right work on the field at the right time or to let it be, has always been of great importance for farmers. Especially in the past, when there were no weather forecasts yet, the weather was closely observed. The so-called "country saying's" are based on observations about the weather made by farmers over many years. The observed laws in weather processes and in the development of fruit, vegetables and cereals were recorded in the form of rhymes. While some of the rules may be superstitions, others represent precise scientific laws.

Hay drove in Engadin around 1900
Hay drove in Engadin around 1900 (Image: Unbekannt (Wikimedia Commons))
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Hay drove in Engadin around 1900
Hay drove in Engadin around 1900 (Image: Unbekannt (Wikimedia Commons))

"Regnet's am Siebenschläfertag,
es sieben Wochen regnen mag."

There are indeed atmospheric processes that can predetermine the weather months ahead. The “edible dormouse rule" (Siebenschläfer in english) for example, is valid for the vast majority of cases in the alpine region. However, the calendar reform of 1582 postponed the "day of the edible dormouse" from June 27 to July 7. Furthermore, the number 7 is not to be understood literally, but rather symbolically.

In the beginning of July, the jet stream over the northern hemisphere stabilizes. This is a strong wind blowing from west to east at an altitude of five to ten kilometers. Depending on the course of the jet stream, this wind usually determines the character of the coming summer. If it’s northbound we get Azores highs, when it’s southbound we get influenced by the Iceland low.


"Ist der Oktober warm und fein,
kommt scharfer Winter hinterdrein."

Persistently high temperatures (2ºC above average), as well as unusual dryness in October almost always require stable high pressure weather. This large-scale weather often persists throughout the winter. Because the difference in air pressure between the Azores and Iceland is small we don’t receive humid, mild westerly winds, but rather continental polar air masses that flow towards Central Europe. As a consequence, we will face a frosty winter and especially a cold January.


Further reading

  • Martine Rebetez, 1986 : Les Saints de Glace, St-Médard et les autres… , Stratus-livres

Other Things the Farmer Knew...

"Wenn die Drossel steigt,
ist der Lenz nicht weit."

"Im Februar viel Sonne am Baum, lässt dem Obst keinen Raum."

"Wenn die Birke Kätzchen hat, ist es Zeit zur Gerstensaat."

Hahn

"Viel Eicheln im September, viel Schnee im Dezember."

"Ist der September lind,
wird der Winter ein Kind."

Alpabzug in Semsales, Kanton Freiburg

"Wenn die Störche zeitig reisen, kommt ein Winter von Eisen."

"Fällt’s Buchenlaub früh und schnell, wird der Winter streng und hell."

"Ist der Dreikönigstag kein Winter, so kommt auch keiner mehr dahinter."