By Terri Weiss
Special to The Citizen
As with all other cultures, local and regional customs developed over centuries out of distinct religious beliefs, festivities and agricultural events and the fact that some of these traditions are still observed today, add a welcoming touch of warmth and light to the colder and darker winter months.
February is the second month of the year in our modern western, or Gregorian, calendar. Some old German names refer to February as “Taumond,” or thawing month, “Schmelzmond,” melting month, “Narrenmond,” fools’ month, and “Hornung.” The latter meaning the stags to throw off their antlers to grow new horns.
Some of you might have already noticed that the mornings start getting lighter earlier and the days are getting longer. Also, the first flowers and buds appear out in nature.
Snowdrops, also known as “Candlemas Bells,” or “Schneeglöckchen,” are one of the earliest to bloom between January and February. The bulbous plant symbolizes hope that milder weather and spring is on its way in a matter of weeks. In the various peasants’ guides for farming, hundreds of years of observations have fashioned the rules for the agricultural year based on past weather and seasons, and may or may not indicate what’s in store for us today. Some of these Old German “Bauernregeln,” or peasants’ sayings, state:
“Februartau bringt Nachfrost im Mai.“ February dew will bring night frost in May.
“Viel Nebel im Februar, viel Regen das ganze Jahr.“ Lots of fog in February, much rain all year.
“Wenn’s im Hornung (February) nicht schneit, kommt die Kält zur Osterzeit.“ If there’s no snow in February, the cold will come at Easter.
“Im Februar Schnee und Eis, macht den Sommer heiß.“ Snow and ice in February will make for a hot summer.
Take your pick of these premonitions. The little farmers’ wives’ ditty in Swabian dialect sums it all up:
“Dr Februar isch älls no kaltOnd Obends dunkelts au no bald.
Oft gibt’ no Schnee ond kalta Wind,
im zwoita Monet mir jetzt sind.
Doch Lichtmeß isch im Februar,
do wird’s dann wieder heller
ab zwoita, des isch währle war,
ab Lichtmeß do gots schneller.“
“Everything’s still cold, and evening darkness comes early. Often there’s snow and a cold wind blowing in the second month of the year. But Candlemas is in February. As of the 2nd, this is true, it will be lighter much earlier each day.”
Another early February holiday is the customary St. Blaise Day blessing (Blasiussegen). Always on Feb. 3, in honor of St. Blaise, Catholic churches hold the annual ceremony meant to protect against any and all throat ailments. St.Blaise became the “patron saint of throats” after rescuing a boy choking on a fishbone. It is said that this fourth century saint was a physician ordained to the priesthood and later bishop of Sebastea in Armenia.
After mass on this feast day the priest places two blessed candles joined in the shape of a cross at each person’s throat and says a prayer for their health. This has been celebrated since the 16th century. In some rural catholic areas in the German Southwest, the custom of lighting a hilltop bonfire on St. Blaise’s night refers to the saint’s symbols, and the fact that his feast day is the day right after Candlemas, which is also a festival of fire and light.