Sayings Passed Through Centuries Once Helped Farmers Plan
People have always wanted some way to predict the weather for the upcoming season, but before the advent
of modern meteorology in World War II, it was not an exact science. In the past, however, there was an art to it. Weather lore (pranostika) has been passed down through centuries. It was first mentioned in Czech literature in 1587, and it was clearly not something new, even back
Some sayings date to Slavic pagan times while others are tied to days for Christian saints. There wasn’t much reason behind forecasting, but there was some rhyme to the short, poetic sayings. The calendar could be seen as a sort of board game, with one day’s weather being like a roll of the dice determining the luck of the coming weeks.
One of the more curious entries on the Czech calendar is Hromnice on 2 February. The weather or behaviour of animals on this day, according to tradition, could give farmers some clues on how to prepare for spring planting.
In the Celtic tradition, this cross-quarter day – halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox – is called Imbolc. It is likely that the Celtic tradition influenced the Slavic one, as there are multiple similarities. One of the sayings for Hromnice is, “If the badger leaves his burrow on Hromnice, he will run back four weeks later.” Another states, “If a goose swims on Hromnice, then on Easter it will waddle on ice.”
Some people might spot that Hromnice is also Groundhog Day in North America, when it is said that winter will last six more weeks if the large rodent sees its shadow. Groundhog Day started in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where many Germans settled. They had a similar tradition to the Czech one, with a hedgehog being used as the indicator animal. There are no hedgehogs in North America, so adaptations had to be made. All of the predictive sayings stress that clear skies are bad news. “Clouds on Hromnice bring farmers joy.” If that is not sufficiently blunt, there is the rather grim, “On Hromnice, it’s better for a farmer to have a wolf in his barn or a dead wife than a sunny sky.”
The name Hromnice comes from “hrom,” meaning “thunder” in Czech. Historically, candles would be consecrated in a fire-themed ritual on this day, and then lit throughout the year during storms to protect homes from being hit by lightning.
This has been adopted into the Christian tradition of Candlemas, also on 2 February, when candles are blessed to be used for religious purposes. Many other days have become imbued with weather lore. Germany and Bohemia share another saying, this one for 24 February, “St Matthew breaks the ice. If there isn’t any, he will make some.” Another big day for predicting the summer is St Medard’s day on 8 June. St Medard was a French monk who was protected from rain by an eagle hovering over him.
There are dozens of sayings, and they are not all that encouraging. “St Medard’s hood drips for 40 days” is the main one, meaning if it rains that day, then it will rain a lot more. There is even a phrase for it: Medard’s weather – Medardovské počasí. The record for consecutive rain in June-July in what is now the Czech Republic was 2 days in 1954.
Conversely, a dry St Medard’s day means six weeks of drought, which isn’t so good either. Some of the most famous epithets are for St Martin’s Day on 11 November. Traditionally, a goose is served for dinner on this day. “St Martin arrives on a white horse” means the first day of snow is expected. But snow could prove disappointing. As another saying goes, “St Martin on ice, Christmas on mud.” A brown Christmas can be predicted even in the spring, since the saying for 23 April is, “If fodder is already green on St George’s day, winter will arrive on St Martin’s day.”
St Martin has recently made a comeback, as 11 November has become part of a new marketing campaign for promoting Czech wine from the recent harvest – Svatomartinské víno. Many towns hire an actor to wear medieval clothes and ride a white horse to open the wine sales officially.
There were several predictions every month, and they were often contradictory. Several sayings are likely to come true, while the others then have to be proven false. People tend to forget the bad predictions and remember the valid ones. This creates the illusion that weather lore works.
While Bohemia and Moravia became industrial centers in the 19 th and 20 th centuries, the culture never fully escaped its agricultural roots. Many people who have never planted anything on a farm can tell you a saying about wet hay or frosty grapevines, and know the saints only from their weather forecasts.