Blog September 21, 2023

The Almanac You May Not Know! Part One

The Almanac You May Not Know!  Part One

Ember Days:

The name is derived from the Latin quattuor tempora, meaning “Four Times” or “Four Seasons.” The specific themes for each Ember Week of the year are as follows:

Spring: the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Ash Wednesday, to give thanks for the rebirth of nature and for the gift of light (usually flowers are offered at this time).

Summer: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost, to give thanks for the wheat crop.

Fall: the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of the Holy Cross (September 14), to give thanks for the grape harvest.

Winter: the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of St. Lucy (December 13), during the third week of Advent, to give thanks for the olive crop.

As with much folklore, this is grounded in some common sense since the beginning of the four seasons cue the changes in weather as well as a shift in how we keep harmony with the Earth and respect our stewardship of the Earth, our “garden of Eden.”


Plough Monday:

The first Monday after Epiphany was the day for the menfolk to return to work after the holidays — although no work was actually done on this day. Dressed in clean white smocks decorated with ribbons, the men dragged a plow (plough) through the village and collected money for the “plow light” that was kept burning in the church all year. Often men from several farms joined together to pull the plow through all their villages. They sang and danced their way from village to village to the accompaniment of music. In the evening, each farmer provided a Plough Monday supper for his workers, with plentiful beef and ale for all.

The day traditionally saw the resumption of work after the Christmas period in some areas, particularly in northern England and East England. The customs observed on Plough Monday varied by region, but a common feature to a lesser or greater extent was for a plough to be hauled from house to house in a procession, collecting money. They were often accompanied by musicians, an old woman or a boy dressed as an old woman, called the “Bessy,” and a man in the role of the “fool.” ‘Plough Pudding’ is a boiled suet pudding, containing meat and onions. It is from Norfolk and is eaten on Plough Monday.

It wouldn’t be a ploughman’s lunch without something pickled: gherkins, pickled onions, and a strong chutney, like Branston pickle or ploughman’s pickle are must-haves. Round off your meal with a nice crusty white or whole grain bread to build your sandwich, and slather on soft butter and Coleman’s mustard.  I have seen this lunch entrée in several English Restaurants and Pubs over the years,  It is called a Ploughman’s Lunch.

Ploughman’s Song: Here is a version from about 1800.

God Speed the Plow

Though the wealthy and great Live in splendor and state I envy them not, I declare it

For I grow my own hams

My own ewes, my own lambs

And I shear my own fleece and I wear it

By plowing and sowing

By reaping and mowing

All nature provides me with plenty

With a cellar well stored

And a bountiful board

And my garden affords every dainty

For here I am king I can dance, drink and sing

Let no one approach as a stranger I’ll hunt when it’s quiet

Come on, let us try it

Dull thinking drives anyone crazy

I have lawns, I have bowers

I have fruits, I have flowers

And the lark is my morning alarmer So all farmers now

Here’s God Speed the Plow

Long life and success to the farmer.


Although not mentioned are any of the headaches farmers have always had to contend with – the vagaries of the season, physically demanding work, increasing costs and decreasing prices – it does sum up very nicely the feeling of independence and satisfying productivity that is at the heart of every farmer.  And is a plea for prosperity.

The poem is often sung and again there are many tunes it can be sung to, some traditional and those origins are lost in time as the tunes are altered and used with other lyrics. My favourite is modern by Stackridge which is instrumental. But close your eyes are you are there in the fields working to bring the harvest in, hot and in need of a cider!


Distaff Day

The day after Epiphany (January 6) was traditionally the one on which women went back to work after the 12-day Christmas celebration. A distaff is the wooden rod (staff) that holds the flax or wool on a spinning wheel. The term distaff came to refer to both women’s work and the female branch (distaff side) of the family. As is often the case, it’s hard to go back to work after the holidays and not much got done! The women’s husbands would mischievously try to set fire to the flax on their wives’ distaffs, while the women, lying in wait, would retaliate with humor by dousing them with buckets of water. The English poet Robert Herrick wrote: If the maids a-spinning goe Burn their flax and fire their tow. Bring the pails of water then Let the maids bewash the men.


Three Chilly Saints Day:

May 11, 12, and 13 are the feast days of Saints Mamertus, Pancras, and Gervais. These three are known as the Three Chilly Saints not because they were cold during their lifetimes, but because these days are traditionally the coldest of the month. English and French folklore (and later American) held that these days would bring a late frost. In Germany, they were called the Icemanner, or Icemen Days, and people believed it was never safe to plant until the Icemen were gone. Another bit of folklore claimed, “Who shears his sheep before St. Gervatius’s Day loves more his wool than his sheep.”

Who Are The Three Ice Men?

Perhaps you’ve heard the old proverb that warns not to plant until after the “Three Ice Men” have passed, but do you know who these mysterious Ice Men are?

Remembering that the last frost of the year generally falls around the feast of Servatius was a useful marker for pre-modern farmers.

More “Chilly Saints” Lore

In some regions, the lore goes on to note that rain will fall on Feast of St. Sophia, marking the beginning of planting season. For this reason, May 15 is referred to as “Zimna Zoska,” or “Cold Sophia” in Poland.

One point of interest is that this bit of lore dates back to before the creation of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, at which time most days of the year shifted somewhat. While the feasts of the Three Chilly Saints are still celebrated from May 11-13 on our calendar, these days used to fall a little later in the astronomical year: May 19-22.


Mid-Summers Day

If summer solstice marks the first day of summer, why is “Midsummer” just a few days later?






























Home » Holidays & Events » Seasons


When And What Is Midsummer?

Midsummer celebrations garland.

If summer solstice marks the first day of summer, why is “Midsummer” just a few days later? Learn the origins of this special holiday and discover fun Midsummer celebrations for your friends and family!


Origins Of Mid-Summer And St. John’s Day:

Midsummer celebrates the joy of long, warm days spent outside in the summertime. It’s held near the summer solstice—the first day of summer and the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere—and is believed to be a period of good fortune and fertility. It’s especially beloved in Scandinavia, where the sky stays light into the night. In Sweden (Midsommar) and Finland (Juhannus) are even national holidays.

These days though, Midsummer celebrations are more revelrous than religious, a time to gather with friends and family outdoors for eating, drinking, and merry-making.

Many Midsummer rituals and superstitions have ancient origins (in Finland, it’s thought the holiday may have been meant to keep the thunder and rain god Ukko happy, thus ensuring a bountiful harvest). Midsummer’s Eve also frequently coincides with St. John’s Eve, a night of festivities before the Feast Day of St. John, a Catholic holiday marking the nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24.


Folklore And Celebrations

Because summer is a great time for a party, Midsummer has long been a time of revelry. The early Catholic church capitalized on this by creating the Feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas, to coincide with Midsummer (according to the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist was born six months before his cousin, Jesus, which is why this is a fixed date on the 24th). Many of the traditional festivities associated with St. John’s feast day were held the night before, on June 23, or St. John’s Eve.

Perhaps more than any other day of the year, except Christmas, St. John’s Eve is full of lore. Throughout the world, this night has traditionally been celebrated by lighting massive bonfires, accompanied by music, singing, and dancing. In fact, in Ireland, St. John’s Eve is still known as “Bonfire Night,” and its history stretches back even further than Catholicism in Ireland. At one time, Bonfire Night honored Ãine, the Celtic goddess of love and fertility.

St. John’s Eve bonfires were believed to have magical, protective qualities, and many rituals sprang up around them.

Jumping through the fire was said to bring good luck. Farmers walked in circles around their sheep, carrying torches lit from the bonfire. In certain areas of Ireland, some people still believe that…

If you hold a pebble in your hand while circling a Midsummer bonfire, any wish will be granted. Simply whisper the wish before casting the stone into the fire.

Others believed that the ashes from a Midsummer bonfire would ensure fertility for their crops. Common practices included mixing the ashes with the seeds while planting or spreading them over the fields.


Faerie Activity?

Not surprisingly, given the wealth of other lore surrounding the day, the ancient Celts also believed St. John’s Eve was a prime day for faerie activity, second only to Halloween. Anyone who wanted to see one of the wee folk would gather fern spores at the stroke of midnight and rub it onto their eyelids. One had to be careful, though, because the crafty faeries often led unwary humans astray, getting them utterly lost, even in familiar territory. This condition was known as being “pixie-led,” and could be safeguarded against by turning your clothing inside out or carrying a small a few leaves of rue, a strong-smelling evergreen, in your pocket.


Midsummer’s Eve is “Herb Evening”

Midsummer’s Eve is also known as Herb Evening. Legend says that this is the best night for gathering magical herbs. Supposedly, a special plant blooms only on this night, and the person who picks it can understand the language of the trees. Other Swedish legends and traditions include placing flowers under your pillow before bed, which will cause you to dream about the one you will marry.

Whether or not you go hunting for faeries to mark the feast of St. John, though, be sure to get outside and have an enjoyable summer!


8 Midsummer Traditions To Make Your Own!

1) Build A Bonfire

Bonfires are lit on Midsummer’s Eve to ward off witches and evil spirits and warm up late-night revelers. Build your own (even a small campfire will do) as a way to keep bad luck at bay.

2) Embrace Flower Power

Flower crowns are an essential part of any Midsummer ensemble and symbolize love, rebirth, and fertility. According to Midsummer lore, placing seven different kinds of wildflowers beneath your pillow on Midsummer Eve means you’ll dream of your true love (be sure to pick them in silence for the magic to work).

Speaking of love, there’s even an old Swedish proverb which says, “Midsummer Night is not long, but it sets many cradles rocking” because there’s often an uptick of babies born in March, nine months after Midsummer celebrations.

3) Hoist A Midsummer Pole

Dancing and singing around a Midsummer pole is believed to have been a tradition since the Middle Ages, and is an especially fun one to try at home. Unlike a maypole, which is typically a single pole wrapped with ribbons, a Swedish Midsummer pole (midsommarstång) is usually cross-shaped with loops on each end of the horizontal bar and decorated with flowers and plants.

You can raise your own using wooden poles from the hardware store or tree branches and attaching greenery with twine. Or, simply pick a tree in your yard to decorate and dance around. A typical Swedish tune is the Små grodorna (“The Little Frogs”), sung while hopping around the Midsummer pole.

4) Decorate Your Home With Flowers

Plants take on magical qualities during Midsummer, and it’s believed bringing the outside in by decorating homes with flowers and garlands of greenery is a way to bring good health to everyone who lives there. Flowers from Midsummer can be dried to preserve their powers, then used in a bath over the holiday season as a way to ensure health throughout the dark days of winter.

5) Go For A Walk Through The Dew

Another health-related legend states that walking barefoot through dewy grass at dawn on Midsummer will keep illness away for the year.

6) Feast With Friends And Family

Food is central to Midsummer celebrations, with the Swedish smörgåsbord including dishes like pickled herring, smoked salmon, and meatballs. Boiled potatoes with dill and fresh, cream-covered strawberries are also staples.

7) Play Lawn Games

Midsummer parties are outdoor affairs, and lawn games are often part of the entertainment. In Scandinavia, skittles games where wooden blocks are bowled over by batons (like Kubb in Sweden or Mölkky in Finland) are popular options. Feel free to use the croquet, bocce, or corn hole sets in your garage though—the most important thing is to get guests of all ages involved and playing together.

8) Drink, Toast, And Sing

Imbibing is definitely part of Midsummer celebrations, and plenty of beer, cider, and aquavit (a Scandinavian liquor) are consumed during a celebration. In Sweden, songs or snapsvisor accompany drinks—the Spiritmuseum in Stockholm has compiled a collection of songs translated to English perfect for at-home celebrations. One of the most well-known is Helen Går (“The Whole Goes Down”), a toast sung before taking your first drink.


Cornscateous Air is Everywhere:

For most of us, some days begin at a sprint. It might be 10 a.m. before we stop in our tracks and realize we haven’t deeply exhaled yet.

The tension of the world today is likely differs from that of 1792, when Robert B. Thomas published the first “Farmer’s Almanac” in Boston. It’s still around. The 227th edition of “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” hit newsstands recently. (Thomas added the word “Old” in 1832.) He promised then that his quirky calendar-based periodical would be “useful, with a pleasant degree of humor.”

It’s good to know that people in 18th-century America needed a little humor. Heaven knows we need it now in polarized, always-online 21st-century America. The almanac offers a reminder that the natural world exists around the clock, too, and it’s worth noticing. An increasing number of people are doing just that, from farm-to-table-minded millennials to health-conscious retirees and outdoorsy types.


Ask the Old Farmer’s Almanac: What’s that cornscateous air?

Answer: Well, as you might guess, it has to do with corn. The old almanac makers dreamed it up, we figure, and used it to signify a time in July when the air is damp and warm, which the farmers considered ideal for growing corn, but which could also pose a serious health threat to old-timers (or others) suffering from asthma, pneumonia or other respiratory ills. Those old-timers were valued work force come husking time, you understand, when every good hand was needed. Our 1805 Old Farmer’s Almanac advised: “If you make a husking, keep an old man between every two boys, else your husking will turn out a loafing. In a husking there is some fun and frolic, but on the whole, it hardly pays the way; for they will not husk clean, since many go more for the sport than to do real work.”

If you’re looking for things to do with corn, try roasting it in its husk over a beach fire or on the grill. You can store corn unhusked (husks still on) in the refrigerator for about two days, but the sooner you eat it, the better it will taste. Right off the stalks is about right. As Garrison Keillor put it, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn.”

Ask the Old Farmer’s Almanac: Has it ever really rained for 40 days commencing on St. Swithin’s Day?

“In some cases, folks are rediscovering the natural environment they live in,” said “Old Farmer’s Almanac” editor Janice Stillman, speaking by phone this month from Massachusetts.

To guide readers through that rediscovery, the almanac aims to be “refreshing, apolitical,” Stillman added.

Gardens generally fall into the “refreshing, apolitical” category. Those plots of earth tend to be our closest connection to nature. Any gardener will attest that their hobby involves more than just sticking seeds into the dirt and applying water. Productive gardens require healthy soil. The almanac provides the ideal analysis — the “underwear soil test,” and the fall — with all of the tomatoes and sweet corn harvested — is a good time for it.

It’s simple. A gardener buries a new pair of clean, all-cotton, undyed, white men’s underwear in the ground. (The almanac instructions do not include any witty comments if a neighbor spots you doing this.) Leave the undies buried for two months. Dig them up and inspect the remains. Their degree of deterioration indicates the levels of worms, fungi, bacteria and organisms. If just the elastic waistband is left, you’ve got some dandy garden dirt. If they’re intact, your patch of soil has likely been depleted, so pick a new spot. (I’d suggest discarding the shorts, too.)

Just because winter is approaching doesn’t mean gardening must cease. September, specifically the 15th through the 27th, presents the optimum time to plant late-season radishes. Now, for me, a few radishes go a long way, but if you’re an aficionado of this sharp-flavored root vegetable, this is a shovel-ready crop for west-central Indiana in autumn, according to the almanac’s time-tested “planting by the moon’s phases” chart. Such below-ground veggies do best when planted during a waxing moon, when nighttime skies are darkest. (Plant in the daylight, though.)

Gardens aren’t the only escape hatch nature gives humans. On any fair-weather afternoon, Hauteans like to pack sandwiches, chips, sodas and a blanket for a picnic at Deming, Collett, Fairbanks or the nearest neighborhood park. They should skip July outings.  That’s when the almanac says “cornscateous air is everywhere.” I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone pack a picnic lunch without potato salad? Some may also wonder what cornscateousmeans.

The almanac’s early editors used the term to describe July days of damp, warm air — perfect for growing corn, but risky for sufferers of asthma and respiratory ailments. Even if you’re not afflicted with those illnesses, schedule your picnic for July 21. It’s a Sunday, after all.

Or so says the almanac’s legendarily mysterious weather predictions. Its “secret formula” involves a mix of Thomas’ fascination with sunspot activity, natural signs such as the color of woolly worms and modern technology. Stillman, said confidently, “I don’t see any true snowstorms in the forecast.”

Then she added, “That doesn’t mean there won’t be any.”

“Useful, with a pleasant degree of humor” indeed.


This is the end of Part One.  Stay tune for Part 2.