Twelve years after he died, and 40-plus years after he filled out his calendar entries, my grandfather continues to teach me things.
Consider the following calendar entry, which made no sense to me at first:
“No rain”? Well, yeah, a whole lot of days passed without rain between 1961 and 1975. So why single out this one for specific notation?
And for that matter, what exactly is St. Swithin’s Day, and why would it come pre-marked on a calendar? Is it really that big a deal?
I couldn’t ask my grandpa. So I turned to Google, which enlightened me about a bit of British weather lore I had never heard.
(Perhaps everyone else in the world knew about this already, and I am the only one who didn’t get the memo. Or maybe it’s generational — once-common knowledge that is dwindling over the decades. At any rate, I’d never heard the story.)
Apparently our friends across the pond believe that if it rains on St. Swithin’s feast day, July 15, it will continue to rain for the next 40 days. And if the skies are clear, they’ll stay clear for the next 40 days.
The Wiki entry on St. Swithun, as it’s more accurately spelled, says there’s an underpinning of scientific truth beneath the old proverb. In the British Isles, at least, weather patterns do tend to hold steady from mid-July through the end of August.
It’s not a result of saintly intervention — it’s a jet-stream thing — but, still, there’s a good chance the weather will behave more or less the way St. Swithun would predict. (Compare that to America’s perverse and totally unfounded love affair with the groundhog.)
The summer weather apparently isn’t all that variable in Stamford, either. My grandpa’s calendar for July 1972 shows humid summer weather remaining in play for pretty much the entire latter half of the month. A day of rain on July 31 snapped the sunny streak, though, and put the lie to St. Swithun’s prediction.
My grandpa wasn’t British (or Catholic), but he was interested in the weather, and probably enjoyed a good folktale when he heard one. So it doesn’t surprise me that he would have taken note of the meteorological outcome of St. Swithin’s Day.
The legend of St. Swithin’s Day strikes me as uniquely British, and I’m still not sure why it would have come pre-printed on a calendar sold in the U.S. I can’t answer every question these calendar entries raise, I guess.
The only other reference I’ve ever heard to St. Swithin’s Day came from Frank Sinatra, who name-dropped it in his famous 1990 open letter telling George Michael to loosen up and swing. (According to Mark Steyn, “St. Swithin’s Day” was a favored phrase of Sinatra’s.)
So that’s the story of this particular piece of weather lore, anyway.
I’m guessing my grandpa was none too happy on July 15, 1972, then. Thanks to an obscure British saint, he had 40 days of blisterbitchers to look forward to.