30 March 2012

The Borrowing Days

"The worst blast comes on the Borrowing Days."

The Borrowing Days (or Borrowed Days) are the last three days of March (and sometimes the first three of April, making in all six days).  Traditionally, these days are cold and stormy, at a time when we are looking forward to “that April with his showers sweet” and the gentle west wind “Zephyrus, also with his sweet breath”.  While March is many-weathered, it has hopefully been dry and increasingly warmer, so this period of cold and storm called for an explanation.

March borrows of April three days, and they are ill;
April borrows of March again three days of wind and rain.

One of the legends is that a shepherd once promised March a lamb if the month would guarantee good weather.  March did so, but when he went to get his promised payment, the shepherd, seeing that there were only three days left in the month and his flock was flourishing, reneged on the agreement.  March, in disgust, took his last three days, borrowed three from April, and for the six days sent such terrible weather that the entire flock perished.

March borrows from April
Three days and they are ill;
April returns them back again,
Three days and they are rain.

March does from April gain
Three days and they’re in rain,
Returned by April in ‘s bad kind,
Three days and they’re in wind.

“These days being generally stormy, our forefathers have endeavored to account for this circumstance, by pretending that March borrowed them from April, that he might extend his power so much longer.  Those who are much addicted to superstition will neither borrow nor lend on any of these days.”  Dr. Jamieson, Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808).

On the other hand:

"Beware the blackthorn winter.”

'Blackthorn winter' is the traditional name for a period of warm days at the end of March or beginning of April – which fools the blackthorn (and other trees) into blooming – followed by a period of cold weather.   If the cold is severe enough, the blossoms are liable to be blasted then and there, and for fruit-bearing trees, this would be a catastrophe.

Not to mention sweet-breathed Zephyrus tempting us to put away our winter woolies and get out the shorts and sandals (with the ensuing colds and sniffles thereby).

Well, here in the Smallest State, we’ve had both.  A period of exceptionally warm days last week brought out a profusion of blossoming trees and shrubs – and the Borrowing Days have been cold.  Yesterday was cold and overcast (the day preceding was cold and rainy), today is cold and clear, and tomorrow, snow showers are predicted.

Oh bother.