Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Les Saints de Glace

My mother, born in Germany, always told me about the "Eisheiligen" , or "Ice Saints".

These are three days in the month of May, usually between the 11th and 15th, where the temperature can suddenly plummet, causing a late frost. For centuries, before the invention of The Weather Channel, gardeners in the areas that are now Austria, Switzerland and Germany would align their plantings after these dates, and avoid planting delicate things that would be ruined by a drop in temperature.

Last week, as I was gushing joyously on the phone with my mother about how I was strolling around the Jardin de Luxembourg in a skirt and sandals, she heeded her warning to me: "Well, don't put your sweaters away just yet, remember that next week is the Eisheiligen".

"Yeah yeah yeah" I said, going back to my gushing.

When I was a small child, we lived in the middle of nowhere in New England for a couple of years. My parents have a funny story about how one year on the 9th of May, there was a huge snowstorm that dumped several inches of snow and ice. This was too much for my parents, a snowstorm in May, and within weeks plans had been made to pack up our belongings and head west to sunnier, warmer pastures in California.

This story intrigues me, because if it weren't for this snowstorm I may well have become an East Coast rather than a West Coast girl. Imagine. Life would have been so different.

Several things about the Ice Saints. The actual days are the 11th, 12th and 13th of May, although the cold snap can occur a few days before or after. Traditionally, after the 15th of May, known as "Cold Sophie", the chances of frost decrease. Some people, however, say that when Pope Gregory adjusted the calendar in the sixteenth century, the effects of the Ice Saints are now felt between the 19th and 22nd of May. It is possible that during this time, the earth moves through a cosmic cloud which affects the amount of sun that can get through, and that could explain the phenomenon.

Today I met my friend B for a late morning coffee on the blvd Voltaire. I was late in meeting her, though, because I had to run back upstairs and put on a sweater.

When I got home this afternoon, teeth chattering, I called my mother. "You were so right" I told her. "The Ice Saints are a couple of days early this year".

Children, let this be a lesson to you: Don't doubt your mother.

Frenchless in France has a lovely post on the Ice Saints and their various celebrations in Provence.


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