Giorni della merla and Candelora: popular winter traditions in Italy

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You’ve probably never heard about this, but I decided to write a short post anyway about giorni della merla (days of the blackbird hen) and la Candelora. It was a pleasure for me in the first place and I hope you can find it interesting.

I giorni della merla

Image at it.wikipedia.orgI giorni della merla are the last three days of January or the last two plus February 1st (it depends on the different Italian region or city). According to popular tradition, they would be the coldest days of the year. But actually they’re not. 😀 Not every year, at least.

But why are they called days of the blackbird? There are many legends about it. My favourite says that once upon a time blackbirds were white. At the end of a particularly warm January, some blackbirds started mocking January for passing by without being noticed. Fools! The month, furious, took revenge by getting a freezing cold. The blackbirds took shelter inside the villages chimneys. They only emerged on February 1st, all black because of the soot.

In some Italian regions, such as Lombardy or Friuli, during those days, people sing ancient rural songs around a bonfire, dressed in traditional clothes, tasting traditional specialities. The common themes of the songs are winter, weather and love.

According to the legend, in fact, if the giorni della merla are cold, spring will come sooner and will be warmer and sunnier than average. On the contrary, if the blackbird days are warm, spring will come late.

Candelora

Presentation at the temple in Padova
Presentation at the temple in Padova

Another day, very close to those of the blackbird, and connected to the popular weather forecast, is February 2nd. For the Catholic Church it is the day of the purification of Mary after childbirth. And also the day of the presentation of Jesus at the temple. On the photo you can see a fresco of the Scrovegni Chapel, World Heritage Site in Padova.

February 2nd is popularly called Candelora (Candlemas), because on that day catholics should bring candles to their local church, and have them blessed. Candles are considered a symbol of baby Jesus. During the presentation at the Temple, he was in fact called light to lighten the gentiles. Actually it seems that there were pre-existing pagan traditions related to the awakening of light and to the transition between winter and spring. As often happens, it was substituted by the Church.

Honestly, I have never personally attended to this candles blessing tradition. But I have heard many times parents, uncles, aunts and company quoting the Candelora weather forecast saying (in Venetian dialect):

Col dì de’a Candeòra de l’inverno semo fora, ma se piove o tira vento de l’inverno semo drento. 
On the day of Candlemas we’re out of Winter, but if it rains or the wind blows we’re still in Winter. (Which seems quite self-evident). 

Now we just have to wait and see if these days will be really that cold this year or not!

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