Can we predict the weather this year based on Christmas?

A folklorist’s weather forecast for 2021

Some people find it expedient to predict the future to know what will come to pass, in order to prepare for things to come. One of the things that are nice to know is the coming weather; if it will turn out to be good or bad, over the next few days, weeks, or months. Long-term weather forecasts are difficult, even using today’s scientific methods, as the weather depends on an infinite number of variables.

Before today’s technology and knowledge of climate conditions created a new standard for weather forecasts, people still needed to predict the weather. Work on both sea and land depended on the weather, houses were in danger in extreme weather, vehicles for travel were exposed, etc. This is why we practically have an infinite variety of ideas and methods for predicting the weather ahead. One such method is the so-called “marking days”. These are particular dates in the calendar that people believed indicated coming weather. These were often days connected with certain anniversaries, saints, or festivals, like Christmas. The weather predictions we are talking about here are long-term forecasts.

When this is written, February of 2021 has arrived. Christmas has recently passed with its lights and anticipation, as it has done, one way or another, since time immemorial. Many customs surround Christmas, including watching out for weather, as it was thought to indicate what to expect in the coming year. Each of the 12 days of Christmas stood for a month of the year using a simple rule: Christmas day was January, the second day of Christmas was February, and so on. There is an Icelandic rhyme to memorise this:

Tólf dagar, sem jól títt falla,
teikna þess árs mánuði alla,   
samlíkan hvern mánuð segi 
sem viðrar á hvers þess degi.1   

Twelve days, as Christmas often fares,
outline all the months of this year.
Each month will take after, I say,
the weather on that Christmas day.

It seems that this folk belief came to Iceland via Scandinavian and German literature translated into Icelandic, and from the sources emerges that many writers were skeptical of these methods. However, this knowledge has survived to this day, and we are using it here to make a simple weather forecast for 2021. As with all such forecasts it should be taken with a pinch of salt! If you think this is a silly exercise (even in the past many doubted the value of such predictions), keep in mind the predicament of people who had nothing else to turn to for peering into the uncertain future. This forecast is based on the weather in Akureyri from December 25 to January 5 2021. It therefore applies to the north of Iceland.

December 25 stands for January: Mild, little precipitation, some windDecember 31 stands for July: Cold, dry, little wind
December 26 stands for February: Cool, little precipitation, little windJanuary 1 stands for August: Cold, dry, little wind
December 27 stands for March: Shifty, very wet, windyJanuary 2 stands for September: Warm, dry, little wind
December 28 stands for April: Cool, rainy, somewhat windyJanuary 3 stands for October: Warm, dry, some wind
December 29 stands for May: Cold, little precipitation, little windJanuary 4 stands for November: Mild, dry, some wind
December 30 stands for June: Cold, dry, little windJanuary 5 stands for December: Mild, dry, little wind

Each reader has to interpret this information as he or she sees fit. Based on these predictions we can expect a cold spring and summer and a very dry year. The autumn will be warm and we can expect “red Christmas” (i.e. Christmas without snow). 

Whether any of this will turn out as predicted we will not hazard a guess. This is just an example of how people attempted to make sense of the world, the heavens, cause and effect, and how some days were more significant than others and were believed to have mysterious powers of prediction.

1 Lesbók Morgunblaðsins November 31st 1958, p. 629.