Les saints de glace

We had snow the other day. Not precisely in our village but just a few hundred metres above on the foothills.

This seemingly surprising meteorological phenomenon is not as unusual as it seems. The French hold great store in old proverbs and folklore when it comes to the weather. Les anciens, the old timers who have been around long enough to know better, will not take sayings like ‘En Mai, fais ce qu’il te plâit‘ too much to heart. They will rather think of ‘Les saints de glace’ and be wary of planting or ‘uncovering by a thread‘ until after they have safely passed.

Les saints de glace, or the ice saints in English aka St. Mamertus, St. Pancras (or Boniface) and St. Servatius, are the saints whose birthdays fall from May 11 to 13, dates which are thought to correspond to a time when the weather often gets colder. This is why popular wisdom has it that you should never plant your tomatoes before mid-May.

We are certainly experiencing the proverbial early May cold snap this year. After an early, hot start to spring back in April, when I foolishly put away all my winter sweaters and dusted off the garden furniture, we are freezing again. It is hard to imagine that in a few weeks we will be back in sandals and bathing suits, complaining about the heat.

This year’s late cold weather can also be explained by a phenomenon known in France as ‘la lune rousse’. This is the lunar cycle that follows Easter, which came late this year. In agricultural terms, it does not bode well. “La lune rousse sur la semence aura toujours mauvaise influence,” goes one proverb, meaning: “Red moon on seed will bad influence bring.” Another says, “En lune rousse, rien ne pousse” or “Moon of rose, nothing grows.” (I am using poetic license here but I did read that the translation of this moon can be red, pink or rose).

We will survive but it could be touch and go for wine growers. I heard on Sunday that some were taking drastic measures like spraying, heating and smoking to save the crops in wine-growing regions at greatest risk of frost. Here’s an interesting article that explains some of the techniques.

For now, the weather can only be described as ‘maussade’, meaning damp and miserable. Cold and rainy with low cloud cover. Only the birds relentlessly chirping outside my window remind us that summer is just around the corner.

What’s your weather like?

22 thoughts on “Les saints de glace

  1. Another “dicton” on this theme (dicton is more accurate than proverbe for this sort of things) : S’il pleut à la Saint-Médard (8 juin), il pleut quarante jours plus tard, à moins que Saint-Barnabé (11 juin) ne lui coupe l’herbe sous le pied.

    There is a 1974 thriller with Alain Delon and Mireille Darc called “Les seins de glace” , same pronounciation .

    Here in les Landes the sky is grey and it’s a bit fresh .

      1. Oh and by the way, we have no better translation for ‘dicton’ than an old saying or proverb…again an English void!

  2. In Spain there’s a saying about don’t take off your sweater until the 40th of April…which would land on May 10.
    A few years ago, we had snow on May 5. We rarely get snow at all. Zero this year. We didn’t even get a hard freeze. Just frost and just a few times.
    We have been promised rain over and over, but the skies stay blue and sunny. While that’s nice for getting outside, my garden is wilting and the rainwater tank is empty. Hard to believe it’s so dry after the floods of October. Very extreme. If it’s dry this early, what will happen in July and August, when we almost never get rain?

    1. That’s funny — sounds like you are having similar weather to what we had last year. Almost no freezing temps and zero precipitation. Our garden suffered all through last summer but seems to be coming back after all the rain of late. Hope you get some much-needed rain before the sun hits in all its glory!

  3. Reblogged this on hus i frankrike and commented:
    Despite the fact that I have so much to blog about after 10 days of hard work down in France I just couldn’t resist to reblog this episode by fellow blogger FranceSays. It gives you some of that detailed knowledge that really makes you “know” a country well. The link in the text to the article in lesgrappes.com is also worth a read!

    1. Thanks, Husifrankrike! I learned something new from that article too — being a wine-grower is a lot more technically challenging than I imagined. Glad you found it interesting and thanks for the reblog!

  4. In Milwaukee I never feel completely safe in planting flowers till late May. We had several inches of snow just a couple weeks ago, and even here in early May there’s always a chance of a frost that could wilt/kill young annuals.

    Your photos are really nice and put the snow to its best advantage, at least😄

    1. Oh, yes, you want to wait to avoid any risk for those flowers. If I remember my days in your neighbor state of Minnesota, though, you can completely skip spring in the midwest and go straight into summer! The snow is pretty for sure even if somewhat unwelcome in May…🥶

    1. I have no idea as it I can’t seem to find out anything about it online. Seems they keep the details hush hush as it’s ‘technically’ illegal…but for sure it must’ve been chilly!

  5. Only last weekend we had frosts and minus 3c and this week, very strong winds. Some neigbours laughed at me for not having my veggies out but they lost their beans and tomatoes with the frost. When I lived in NZ the farmers would often mist their orchards when frosts were expected at that crucial stage…the buds remained cocooned in their ‘ice-bubbles’ and seemed to survive very well. They would even hire helicopters to hover for hours on end, night after night in a bid to protect fruit and vines.

    1. That’s really interesting about New Zealand — I had no idea until I researched this post that such techniques even existed. I suppose in a country with any kind of weather extremes and high economic stakes (like France’s vineyards), it’s a case of needs must. Hopefully we will be past the cold weather by this weekend. Vive l’été!

  6. I did some research for a post a few years ago on les Saints de Glace and it seems that certain meteorological events around this time do conspire to make it cold in mid-May. This year, we had our Saints de Glace last weekend. Minus 2 C on Sunday and Monday mornings. This weekend is forecast to warm up. I hope so. We have exhausted our stock of old wood for the woodburner, despite it not having been a particularly cold winter.

    1. It’s funny because the official dates I saw for this year were later, from May 11-13, yet the weather phenomenon we all observed was last weekend. Climate change? Sounds like good timing if you’ve just run out of wood. Bring on summer!

      1. Those are indeed the Saints de Glace dates, but I daresay the weather can change around them from year to year. Our experience is that May is one of the most changeable months of the year. We have even experienced 0C in the morning of 30th May and 30C in the afternoon. Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

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