The Almanac You May Not Know! Part Two
Dog Days of Summer:
The “Dog Days” of summer are from July 3 to August 11 each year. They’re usually the hottest and most unbearable days of the season. We often hear about the “Dog Days” of summer, but few know where the expression originated. Some think it’s a reference to the hot, sultry days that are “not fit for a dog.” Others suggest it’s the time of year when the extreme heat drives dogs mad. But where does the term come from? And what does it have to do with dogs? You may be surprised to see is has to do with the stars! Read on.
The phrase is a reference to Sirius, the Dog Star. During the “Dog Days” period, the Sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth. Sirius is a part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog.
In the summer, Sirius rises and sets with the Sun. On July 23rd, specifically, it is in conjunction with the Sun, and because the star is so bright, the ancient Romans believed it actually gave off heat and added to the Sun’s warmth, accounting for the long stretch of sultry weather. They referred to this time as diēs caniculārēs, or “dog days.”
Thus, the term Dog Days of Summer came to mean the 20 days before and 20 days after this alignment of Sirius with the Sun—July 3 to August 11 each year.
Summer heat is due to the Earth’s tilt:
While this period usually is the hottest stretch of summer, the heat is not due to any added radiation from Sirius, regardless of its brightness. The heat of summer is simply a direct result of the Earth’s tilt.
During summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the tilt of the Earth causes the Sun’s rays to hit at a more direct angle, and for a longer period of time throughout the day. This means longer, hotter days.
The Dog Days of Summer Explained:
Many people think the phrase “Dog Days of Summer” is an idiom where the words don’t literally mean what they say, but the truth is that when you learn the origins of the term, it was quite literal for them. Technically, people referred to this time of year as the “Days of the Dog Star.”
Ancient Greek and Roman cultures were heavily influenced by astrology and stories of the constellations. They had intricate mythology explaining what they saw in the night sky and used those stories to explain the unexplainable in their lives, including the change of seasons and how it impacted peoples’ behavior. When people noticed a connection between the hottest time of the year and a change in the pattern of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, they knew it was more than just coincidence. To them, it seemed that when Sirius rose and set with the sun, it was adding warmth to the sky, explaining the extreme heat of this time of year.
In ancient Greek, Sirius means “glowing” or “scorcher” so it makes sense that they named this star after the extreme summer heat in the Mediterranean. The myth behind Sirius is that he is the loyal pup of the hunter, Orion. Most novice astronomers are familiar with Orion and can at least identify Orion’s belt in the night sky as three stars forming a straight line.
Ancient Greeks and Romans’ knowledge of constellations was much more intricate, and they envisioned the image of a dog when they connected the stars closest to Sirius, right next to the constellation of Orion. Ancient Romans referred to this constellation containing Sirius as “Canis Major,” which translates to “Greater Dog.” In ancient Rome, this same period of time where the sun and Sirius rose and set together was known as dies caniculares, which translates to “Days of the Dog Star.”
More on Sirius, “The Dog Star”:
In ancient Greek mythology, Sirius is known to be the loyal dog of the hunter, Orion. But the tales of Orion are not very flattering. Orion was known as an excellent hunter; just ask him to find out how absolutely amazing he was. He was a braggart, an alcoholic, and a sexual predator, which got him into all sorts of trouble in the Land of the Gods. He was blinded, banished, and eventually killed.
There are multiple versions of the story of how he was killed, including one in which he brags to the goddess Gaia that he could hunt and kill every animal on earth, so she kills him with a giant scorpion who is also immortalized in a constellation. Through it all, Sirius, his loyal canine companion, is by his side. Sirius’s eternal loyalty follows him into the afterlife where he forms the brightest star next to Orion’s constellation. Sirius is forever by Orion’s side despite his major flaws, providing historical proof that we truly do not deserve dogs.
Actually, many cultures around the world have similar myths about the constellation containing Sirius and envisioned a dog or other canine, such as a wolf or coyote, associated with this star. In China, this same star is known as Heavenly Wolf. For the Alaskan Inuit, this star is called Moon Dog. In Cherokee lure, this star is a dog star that guards the entrance to the Milky Way, known as the Path of Souls. Some Pawnee tribes refer to this same star as a trickster, called the Coyote Star.
Modern Interpretations of the Dog Days of Summer:
Over time, as we have lost the direct connection to the explanation of the phrase, people have substituted their own ideas for what is meant by the “Dog Days of Summer.” This includes the idea of sweltering hot days when dogs are more likely to “go mad,” as well as descriptions of a time of the year when dogs laze about because they are too hot to do anything else. While none of these explanations are tied directly to the origins of the phrase, hot summer days do bring unique risks to dogs and require some additional considerations to keep your pup comfortable and safe.
Special Considerations For Your Dog During the Dog Days of Summer
Be mindful of the heat and take measures to prevent heat stroke and other seasonal dangers during this time of year. This includes avoiding exercise with your pup during the hottest times of day and making sure they have a cool place to rest with plenty of water throughout the day. Dogs should never be left alone in an enclosed vehicle, especially on warmer days. Be cautious with brachycephalic breeds, such as French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Pugs, and Pekingese; they can overheat much more quickly, as well as any dogs with underlying health conditions and dogs who are very young or very old.
Other factors to keep in mind are that this time of year may bring more opportunities for swimming, barbecues, and outdoor celebrations. Be sure pups are always supervised near open water as not all dogs are good swimmers and can fatigue quickly if they cannot get out of the water on their own. Also, keep all the delicious barbecue scraps away from your pup. They can get especially sick from ingesting pointy kabob sticks if they find a little bit of meat still attached, as well as from corn cobs, fruit pits, bones, and foods with ingredients that may be toxic to them.
Finally, we all likely know of at least one dog, and maybe a few people, who are terrified of the sound of fireworks. Be sure to create a safe, quiet space for your dog during these kinds of celebrations and consider speaking with your veterinarian about a safe sedative for your pup if they are extremely stressed by these sounds.
While the ancient Greeks may be right that these hot days make dogs pant so hard their tongues look like taffy, summer can be lots of fun for pups with the right precautions. As for the strange behaviors it causes in people, you may want to monitor your horoscope more closely during these Dog Days of Summer.
Our ancestors celebrated life together with the rhythms of each season. Many of these celebrations were interwoven and connected to nature and Earth’s natural cycles. Lughnasadh or Lammas Day is one of those celebrations.
This observance, traditionally observed on August 1, marked the beginning of the harvest, and especially celebrated the first wheat crop, or that of corn. It derives from the ancient English festival the Gule of August, a pagan dedication of the first fruits that the early English church later converted to Christian usage. On Lammas Day, loaves of bread were baked from the first-ripened grain and brought to the churches to be consecrated. The word “lammas” comes from the Old English hlaf, loaf,” and maesse, “mass” or “feast.” Through the centuries, “loaf-mass” became corrupted in spelling and pronunciation to Lammas. To the Celts, this was Lughnasaid, the feast of the wedding of the Sun god and the Earth goddess, and also a harvest festival. In Ireland, baskets of blueberries are still offered to a sweetheart in commemoration of the original fertility festival. In Scotland, the Lammastide fairs became famous for trial marriages that could be ended without question after a year. Much lore is associated with this day, including this proverb: After Lammas Day, corn ripens as much by night as by day.”
You May wish to celebrate Lughnasadh as a way of honoring nature’s incredible fertile energy at harvest time, and as a way to connect with our natural world on a deeper, more meaningful level. I truly believe that by recognizing and celebrating the little shifts in Earth’s natural rhythms, we can become more attuned to nature and feel more grounded in our everyday lives.
WHAT IS LUGHNASADH/LAMMAS DAY
Lughnasadh, by some cultures known as Lammas Day is typically celebrated on August 1st (or February 1st if you are in the Southern Hemisphere!). However, in Celtic culture, it is celebrated the entire month of August in many cases.
Lughnasadh and Lammas are used interchangeably in modern paganism and spirituality, but their origins may still surprise you. Whichever you choose to recognize, in terms of the wheel of the year, this marks the first of three harvest festivals ending with Samhain on October 31st. It also marks the halfway point between the summer solstice (Litha) and the fall equinox (Mabon).
These two sabbats are undeniably linked and have been celebrated in many different ways for quite a long time. They share common themes of harvest, luck, prosperity, abundance, gratitude, and success after a job well done.
WHERE DO THEY ORIGINATE?
Evidence of harvest festivals such as these have been traced back through most studied cultures.
In 3100-2686 B.C. the Egyptians welcomed their first harvest with a massive feast.
A thousand years later, from 1600 – 1046 B.C. the great Dynasties of China celebrated their harvest during the first full moon of Autumn. In 1621 (A.D.) the first Thanksgiving was held in what would later become America.
In 1843, Reverend Hawker introduced a thanking of the harvest to the church.
But what happened between 1046 B.C. and 1621 A.D. is crucial to how we celebrate these harvest festivals today. In Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man (as well as some surrounding territories) Lughnasadh was born during this time. The festival first became recognized in commemoration of the God, Lugh (Hence the name). These ancient festivals included matchmaking, harvesting, the trading of goods, and athletic competitions.
While the festival of Lughnasadh is mostly attributed to Lugh. The athletic competitions were attributed to his mother who was said to have died of exhaustion preparing the fields for farming. These athletic competitions became known as the “Taileteann Games,” and could be quite dangerous. Some of the competitions are not unlike what we would see in the Olympics today. Things like long jumping, high jumping, running, spear throwing, hurling, archery, boxing, wrestling, swimming and horse racing, were all quite common.
As we know though, not everyone is an athlete! Non-sporting competitions existed just as well including singing, dancing, poetry and storytelling.
During Lughnasadh, trading and making deals were also prominent activities. These could be political, social, or economical. Local leaders would often meet with farmers to make trade agreements regarding the harvested crop and their livestock. While some were feasting, competing, or dealing, others were visiting holy wells to make offerings of coins and cloth. They would then circle the well in the direction of the sun to gain health, wealth and favor from the gods. Because of these individuals, another name was born for Lughnasadh, “Garland Sunday.” This was because they would often decorate the holy wells with flowers and cloth.
Another common activity at this time was trial marriages! Yes, you heard correctly. In these trial marriages a couple would marry with their hands through a piece of wood. The marriage would last a year and one day, and in the end they could ultimately decide to stay married or to separate with no questions asked!
Most notably, this became a time for bidding farewell to the days of summer. In almost all cultures this became a huge feast that was held amongst both friend and foe!
In Celtic cultures, festivals were a time when weaponry was not allowed. This was a time of peace during these early days of the modern world. Before the great feasts and festivals of Lughnasadh could begin, the first grain was offered up to Lugh. At this time, a bull was also sacrificed. The entire bull would then be eaten.
Lammas became a well favored Christian Holiday, and as stated before, adopted many of the traditions of Lughnasadh like performing arts and feasting. Over the years, many names have come to form for Lammas and Lughnasadh, and many of them you probably have never heard of!
The latter two names are derived for those who survived the climbing of mountains, hills and peaks. Still today, many people make a pilgrimage atop cliffs and mountains on Lughnasadh/Lammas.
Cats Night Commence:
Cat Nights begin on August 17. This term harks back to the days when people believed in witches. A rather obscure old Irish legend said that a witch could turn herself into a cat eight times, but on the ninth time (August 17), she couldn’t regain her human form. This bit of folklore also gives us the saying, “A cat has nine lives.” Because August is a yowly time for cats, this may have prompted the speculation about witches on the prowl in the first place. Also, nights continue to get longer. Cats, crepuscular creatures, are nocturnal hunters. Their superior night vision means that the nights belong to them.
On August 17, Cat Nights Begin, harking back to a rather obscure Irish legend concerning witches; this bit of folklore also led to the idea that a cat has nine lives.
The term Cat Nights refers to a rather obscure old Irish legend concerning witches and the belief that a witch could turn herself into a cat eight times, but on the ninth time (August 17), she couldn’t regain her human form, thus remaining a cat forever.
This bit of folklore also gives us the saying, “A cat has nine lives.” prompted the speculation about witches on the prowl in the first place.
Here’s a poem in honor of Cat Nights:
By old Irish lore
on the 17th of August
more cats are among us
than ever before.
It is said that witches
can turn into a cat.
But no more than eight switches
as a matter of fact.
On the ninth switch
they cannot regain
their life as a witch.
A cat they must remain.
So if in mid August
you should hear the cats yowl
amongst sounds of the locust
when cats are on the prowl
Then you will know
as lore was told over time
that cats will show
lives as many as nine.
By V. Neumann
Harvest Home, also called Ingathering, traditional English harvest festival, celebrated from antiquity and surviving to modern times in isolated regions. Participants celebrate the last day of harvest in late September by singing, shouting, and decorating the village with boughs. The cailleac, or last sheaf of corn (grain), which represents the spirit of the field, is made into a harvest doll and drenched with water as a rain charm. This sheaf is saved until spring planting.
The ancient festival also included the symbolic murder of the grain spirit, as well as rites for expelling the devil.
A similar festival was traditionally held in parts of Ireland, Scotland, and northern Europe.
Harvest, the season of the gathering of crops. The word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon haerfest (“autumn”) or the Old High German herbist. Harvest has been a season of rejoicing from the remotest times. The Romans had their Ludi Cereales, or feasts in honour of Ceres. The Druids celebrated their harvest on November 1. In pre-Reformation England, Lammas Day (August 1, Old Style) was observed as the beginning of the harvest festival.
Throughout the world, the harvest of the main cereal crop—typically wheat, corn, or rice—has always been the occasion for celebration. Many harvest-related customs have their origin in the animistic belief in a spirit such as the Corn Mother or Rice Mother, and the semi worship of the last throughout the world, the harvest of the main cereal crop—typically wheat, corn, or rice—has always been the occasion for celebration. Many harvest-related customs have their origin in the animistic belief in a spirit such as the Corn Mother or Rice Mother, and the semi worship of the last sheaf was the great feature of the harvest home.
The personification of the crops left its mark upon the harvest customs of Europe. In western Russia, for example, the figure made out of the last sheaf of corn was called the “bastard,” and a boy was wrapped up in it. The woman who bound this sheaf represented the “corn mother,” and an elaborate simulation of childbirth took place, the boy in the sheaf squalling like a newborn child and, on his liberation, being wrapped in swaddling bands. In England, too, there were vestiges of sympathetic magic. In Northumberland an image formed of a wheat sheaf and dressed in a white frock and coloured ribbons was hoisted on a pole. This was the “kern baby,” or harvest queen, and was set up in a prominent place during the harvest supper. In Scotland, the last sheaf, if cut before Hallowmas (the Feast of All Saints), was called the “maiden,” and the youngest girl in the field was allowed to cut it.
Among harvest customs, among the most interesting are harvest cries. The ceremony of the Devonshire reapers, for example, was in the main a continuation of pre-Christian traditions. After the wheat had been cut, the harvest hands would pick a bundle of the best ears, which they called “the neck.” They would then stand in a ring, in the centre of which was an old man holding the neck. At his signal, they would all take off their hats and utter in a prolonged cry “The neck!” three times, raising themselves upright with their hats held above their heads. Then they would cry “Wee yen! Way yen!” or “We haven!” On a still evening in autumn, “crying the neck” had a dramatic effect when heard at a distance.
St Luke’s Little Summer:
turning a gorgeous color. It’s a good time for a brief vacation or visit to a park. In Venice, Italy, they say: “San Luca, El ton va te la zuca” (Pumpkins go stale on St Luke’s Day), but here in North America, pumpkins are enjoying their finest hour. Saint Luke is the patron saint of physicians and surgeons so it seems only fitting that the good doctor give us these calm days. In olden days, St. Luke’s Day did not receive as much attention in the secular world as St. John’s Day (June 24) and Michaelmas (September 29), so it was to keep from being forgotten that St. Luke presented us with some golden days to cherish before the coming of winter, or so the story goes. Some folks call this Indian Summer, but that officially occurs between November 11 and November 20.Lovely, summerlike days that occur around October 18 are called Saint Luke’s Little Summer in honor of the saint’s feast day. Around this time, Saint Luke’s feast day, there is a period brief period of calm, dry weather. Of course, it’s difficult to generalize today across the vast continent of North America, but the temperature is usually mild and the leaf colors are.
Indian Summer Meaning: What is an Indian Summer or Second Summer?
he term “Indian Summer” has been around for centuries. What is an Indian Summer or Second Summer? Where did this term originate and what is its meaning today? Learn more.
For over two centuries, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has gone by the adage: “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s brings out Indian summer.”
“Indian Summer” is not the best terminology, given the history of the term “Indian” in North America. The weather phenomenon is probably best described using the term that Europeans and British still use: St. Martin’s Summer. This references St. Martin’s Day—November 11—which is the official start of these unusually late warm spells. Another popular term used by the American Meteorological Society is “Second Summer,” which is indeed appropriately descriptive.
n England, Shakespeare used the expression “All Halloween Summer.” Other old terms include the unfortunate “Old Wives’ Summer” and, poetically, “Halcyon Days.”
Definition of Indian Summer, Second Summer:
Here are several criteria for this weather phenomenon, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
It’s a period of abnormally warm weather occurring in late autumn between St. Martin’s Day (November 11) and November 20 with generally clear skies, sunny but hazy days, and cool nights.
The time of occurrence is important: It occurs after at least one good killing frost but also be before first snowfall; preferably a substantial period of normally cool weather must precede this warm spell.
As well as being warm, the atmosphere is hazy or smoky, there is no wind, the barometer is standing high, and the nights are clear and chilly.
A moving, cool, shallow polar air mass is converting into a deep, warm, stagnant anticyclone (high pressure) system, which has the effect of causing the haze and large swing in temperature between day and night.
Given above criteria, this weather phenomenon does not occur every year and it occurs more than once some years.
“I am enabled to say, however, that the characteristics of the season, when it appears in all its glory, are a mild and genial temperature, gentle southwestern breezes, unusual brightness of the sun, extreme brilliancy of the moon, a clear, blue sky; sometimes half hidden by a veil of gray haze; daybreaks redder than the splotch on the blackbird’s wing, and sunsets laden with golden fleeces, the wooded valleys aglow with the fires of richly tinted leaves, still clinging to the listless limbs, or lying where they have fallen….” Author Unknown
What is the Origin of Indian Summer?
So where did this term come from? The origin is not certain, but dates back as far back as 1778 in Letters From an American Farmer by the French-American soldier turned farmer Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crèvecoeur:
“Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares it to receive the voluminous coat of snow which is soon to follow; though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer.”
There are many theories. Here are a few of the more plausible ones:
Some say it comes from the Narragansett people located in what is now the northeastern United States, who believed that the condition was caused by a warm wind sent from the court of their southwestern god, Cautantowwit (“great spirit”).
Another theory is that Native Americans would routinely use this brief period of warm fall weather as an opportunity to increase winter stores. November is the time to get one’s last harvest in before winter truly shows its head, so a short period of warm weather would be of note around this time.
A third theory suggests that early American settlers mistook the sight of sun rays through the hazy autumn air for Native American campfires, resulting in the name “Indian summer.”
Indian Pudding Recipe 1700’s:
Celebrate November with a delicious, cozy pudding made with native corn! Indian Pudding is a warm baked custard that uses cornmeal, milk, molasses, and cinnamon. The origin of Indian Pudding dates back to the 1700s; it was said to be a favorite dish of Founding Father John Adams! It’s essentially a version of British “Hasty Pudding” (which was made by boiling wheat flour in water or milk until it thickened into a pudding), but in the New World, the Native Americans made cornmeal, which early settlers referred to as “Indian flour.”
the ‘halcyon days’ of December hark back to the kingfisher
This shy little bird is linked to many bizarre beliefs about the weather
Halcyon Days: Kingfisher Bird
The ancients called them the “halcyon days” – a period of fine, settled weather, lasting roughly seven days, which began sometime in the first half of December. During this time, it was said that the kingfisher (also known as the halcyon) would lay its eggs on the surface of the sea.
The phrase, and the concept behind it, originated in ancient Greece, but during the Renaissance was popularised by several writers, including the poet Michael Drayton, who wrote of “the halcyon, whom the sea obeys…” and Shakespeare, where the halcyon features in a speech by Henry VI.
Later, during the last decade of the 19th century, the American poet Walt Whitman wrote of “the brooding and blissful halcyon days!” in his poem Leaves of Grass.
Since then, the phrase “halcyon days” has been adopted into day-to-day language, usually referring to a period of calm, usually in the distant past, rather than necessarily being anything to do with the weather.
There are other strange weather beliefs related to the kingfisher, too. The most bizarre is the idea, dating from Tudor times, that if you hang a dead kingfisher up by its neck, the body will rotate to show the direction from which the wind is coming. There is no evidence that it actually does so; nor does this seem especially useful!
Halcyon Days, which have come to mean any time of happiness and contentment, are actually the 14 days around the winter solstice. According to Greek legend, the halcyon, or kingfisher, built its floating nest around the 14th of December, during which time the gods calmed the seas for the nesting and hatching time.
Where did “Halcyon Days” come from? The bird’s name derives from a myth recorded by Ovid. According to the story, Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, had a daughter named Alcyone, who was married to Ceyx, the king of Thessaly. It’s a longer story but let’s just say that it ends tragically with Ceyx drowning at sea. Grieving Alcyone was about to throw herself into the sea to join her beloved husband. But the gods took pity on the pair, transforming them into halcyons, with the power to still the stormy seas for 14 days near the time of the winter solstice while they hatched their young. (For this reason, mariners credit the kingfisher, or “alcyon bird,” with the power to calm storms and raging seas.)
The “Halcyon Days” usually end by early January. Today, the phrase “Halcyon Days” has come to mean a sense of peace or tranquility. People often use the phrase halcyon days to refer idyllically to a calmer, more peaceful time in their past. It’s also a fitting phrase for the peaceful, joyful spirit of the Christmas holidays today.
More accurate are the lines from the 17th-century poet Robert Wild, who wrote, “The peaceful kingfishers are met together about the decks, and prophesy calm weather”. Kingfishers are notoriously shy birds, and so are perhaps easier to see during calm, clear weather – hence the connection between bird and weather forecasting.
Beware the Pogonip
The word pogonip is a meteorological term used to describe an uncommon occurrence: frozen fog. The word was coined by Native Americans to describe the frozen fogs of fine ice needles that occur in the mountain valleys of the western United States in December. According to Indian tradition, breathing the fog is injurious to the lungs.
Every year around the week before Christmas, the Old Farmer’s Almanac warns its readers to avoid a weather phenomenon called “pogonip,” an icy winter fog that was evident in parts of Highland County Tuesday morning as droplets of water vapor clung to objects overnight and froze, giving them a shimmering glow at sunrise — and while the almanac says the fog can be dangerous, a local doctor says it amounts to nothing more than a pretty sight.
The word pogonip refers to an uncommon occurrence-frozen fog. The word was coined by Native Americans to describe the frozen fogs of fine ice needles that occur in the mountain valleys of the western United States and Canada. According to their tradition, breathing the fog is injurious to the lungs.
What is also injurious – to lawns, trees, and shrubs, is the lack of snow cover and moisture, especially south and west exposures. Remember, during these conditions check at least once per month in the winter. You will need to hook up your watering hose, apply a sufficient amount of water, use a deep root watering device if necessary, and you must unhook and store the hose when finished. Do not leave the hose attached to the spigot. This may seem like a lot of work, but the time and effort will make for a healthier landscape in the spring.
Some other December pointers:
- Poinsettias perform best in bright, cool locations away from drafts.
- Keep the reservoir in your Christmas tree stand full at all times. Place a couple of
fishing bobbers or brightly colored ping pong balls in the stand so you can monitor the
water level with ease. Think of the tree as a large cut flower which will continue to pull
water up through its trunk.
- Used Christmas tree greens make good mulch to replenish mulch that may have blown
away during the season. Wreaths can be placed directly over perennials and roses.
- Consult the local birding society or wild bird store for the proper care of the birds in
- Keep an eye out for fruit flies congregating around overripe fruit.
- Indian meal moth adults are most common in homes during the early winter season.
So there you have it! The very common days taken for granted as folklore but still are on the Almanacs radar.