Of Dormice and Sleeping Men

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In the beginning minutes of class meetings, we sometimes talk about the weather  – actually ‘rather often’ would be a more accurate description. But us being in Germany, this might not be so surprising as the weather changes all the time, and not just by nuances (talking about the weather in Florida might be less entertaining).

Just last week we had around 30 degrees. In the mean time, the temperatures have dropped to freezing cold (around 15) and a few people are showing first symptoms of colds.

Today is a special weather related day in Germany: the so-colled ‘Siebenschläfer’, and every year the question comes up what this might be in English – if there is any such day. Most do realize that the ‘Siebenschläfer’ day is most likely related to a local weather phenomenon.

Until today, I have commonly offered a translation based on the assumption that ‘Siebenschläfer’ refers to the animal, which is a dormouse in English.  The dormouse, when used to describe a person, metaphorically refers to someone who is not an early bird. This just on the side.

The Dormouse Day, thus, would be similar to the North American Groundhog Day, in that this day is believed to determine the weather of the coming weeks. Groundhog Day, as most people know from the film of the same name, is in February. On Groundhog Day, a representative of the species is questioned whether spring is about to come or winter to remain.

The significance of the ‘Dormouse Day’ is similar, but refers to the weather of the following summer weeks. People believe – and swear to have observed – that the kind of weather dominant on June 27 is the kind of weather to be expected for the next seven weeks.

There seem to be some meteorological explanations behind this, as one participant explained this morning: a kind of meteorological stability that establishes itself around this time. So if there is a dominant high pressure situation,  this condition is bound to stay for a while, the same with a low pressure condition. Or something like that (the German wikipedia entry provides more details on this, but is way to technical for my needs.)

In my next meeting this morning, I learned that the term ‘Siebenschläfer’ – disappointingly I must say – does not refer to the animal, but to seven sleeping men. The story, or legend, goes something like this: during the reign of the Roman emperor Decius (249-251) and the persecution of Christians, seven young Christian men, who had been hiding in a cave in the mountains, were found, captured and walled up alive. Instead of dying, though, they slept for 195 years after which they were found on June 27, 446 (and then died shortly after). I must admit I fail to see the connection with the weather phenomenon (or weather legend) – more research will be necessary.

However, if the latter explanation of the term ‘Siebenschläfer’ is correct, a more accurate translation into English would be the literal: Seven Sleepers Day. And this is indeed what you find on wikipedia.

There goes my Dormouse.

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