originally posted in 1999 in my old site
Recently when I talked to my mother in Switzerland she casually mentioned the “Ice Saints”. I asked her for an explanation as I don’t quite remember the logic behind it and she could not tell me either. So I went hunting for an explanation on the Internet. I found it interesting and decided to share it. Basically this weather folklore is very well known in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Here is an English translation of the information I found in German about the “Eisheiligen”. (May 99)
Are the “Ice Saints” out of tune??
Many of the old weather rules are forgotten. Nowadays, we rather rely on the weather forecast of radio and television. The “Ice Saints” Pankratius, Servatius and Bonifatius as well as the “Cold Sophie” are known for a cooling trend in the weather between 12th and 15th of May. For centuries this well-known rule had many gardeners align their plantings after it. Observations of weather patterns over many years have shown, however, that a drop in temperature occurs frequently only around May 20. Are the “Ice Saints” not in tune anymore? The mystery solution is found in the history of our calendar system: Pope Gregory VIII arranged a calendar reform in 1582, whereby the differences of the Julian calendar could be corrected to the sun year to a large extent. The day of the “Cold Sophie” (May 15) was the date in the old calendar and corresponds to today’s May 22. Therefore the effects of the “Ice Saints” is felt in the timespan of May 19-22. Sensitive transplants should only be put in the garden beds after this date.
May 10, 2002: The Daily News, our local newspaper just had the following article, by Cindy Day the local meteorologist, about the “Ice Saints” in it.
The Icemen cometh …
“For some gardeners, the next three days are quite special. May 11, 12 and 13 are the feast days of saints Mamertius, Pancras (or Pancratius) and Gervais (or Gervatius). These three are known as the Three Chilly Saints, not because they were cold during their lifetimes, but because these days are tradtionally the coldest of the month. According to folklore, these days were most likely to bring a late frost. In Germany, they were called the “Eismänner”, or Icemen Days, and people believed it was never safe to plant until the Icemen were gone.
Today, most of us feel quite comfortable planting during the long weekend in May. But some gardeners, like Grandma, never put annuals in until after the full moon in May. This year the full moon is quite late in the month, not until the 26th. By the way, the full moon in May is the Full Planting Moon or the Full Grass Moon. I don’t think I’ll be able to hold off qite that long, but I will wait until the Icemen are gone.”