Word Magazine December 1991 Page 14-15
THE WEATHER AND ORTHODOX TRADITION
IN LEBANESE FOLKLORE
By Dolly Choueiry Crow
In agricultural Societies the weather plays an important role in the every day life of the people. Such communities have devised and developed traditional methods of forecasting the weather. Some of these folk methods have survived to this day in Lebanon. These folk methods are interesting from the ethnological point of view. However it is worthy to note that the Orthodox tradition has had a major influence on the folk stories pertaining to the weather in Lebanon. In this short account we have chosen four examples to illustrate the relationship between the weather and the Orthodox tradition in Lebanese folklore.
The first example is the story of the “mustaqradat.” The end of the month of February and the beginning of the month of March are considered to be the coldest days of the winter season. In Lebanese folklore there is a story attached to this belief.
There was an old woman who lived in a village in the mountains of Lebanon. She dreaded the cold winter season which was very tough on aging people. The end of February marks a turning point in the winter in Lebanon. Every year at the end of February, this old woman was very happy to have survived the worst part of the winter. One year this old woman thanked her luck a little too soon. Seeing that there were only three days of February left, the old woman said to herself: “February is gone and I did not die of cold this winter. I have one more year to live til next February. I have won over February this year.
February heard this old woman and became very angry. He turned to March and said: “March, let me borrow four days from you. I have only three days left and I need a whole week to get rid of this old woman.” March accepted to lend February four days. And for seven days in a row February snowed and blew, and rained and thundered with all its might. On the seventh day the old woman died.
These seven days are called in Arabic the “mustaqradat” which means the borrowed days”. In Lebanon many people and particularly farmers pay serious attention to the “mustaqradat,” when very cold weather is expected. However in calculating the date of this week the people do not use the Gregorian calendar which is now in general use all over the world. Instead they use an older calendar which the Antiochian Orthodox Church used, prior to 1940. They commonly refer to that calendar as the Eastern calendar while the Gregorian calendar is commonly referred to as the Western calendar.
The difference between these two calendars is now thirteen days. Consequently; the first day of February, according to the Eastern calendar, falls on February 14th. And as a result, the week of the “mustaqradat” falls between March 11th and March 17th. It is interesting to note that the Antiochian Orthodox are not the only ones who insist on using the Eastern calendar to determine the “mustaqradat”. Indeed many members of other Christian sects and also non-Christians firmly believe that the “Orthodox” calendar, as they call it, is more accurate.
The second example is the “Alamat as-Salibiyat” which means the signs of the Cross.” In Lebanese villages, the “Alamat as-Salibiyat” is a folk method of determining the weather forecast for the whole year. The twelve days that follow the feast of the Elevation of the Cross, on September 14th, are thought to be indicative of the weather all year round. The first day of these twelve days is thought to be the weather forecast for the entire month of January. The second day represents the weather forecast for the month of February. The third day indicates the weather in March, and so forth until all twelve months are covered.
Here again the use of the Eastern calendar is championed over the Western calendar by Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. However it must be noted that there is a strong opposition to the use of the Eastern calendar by those Christian sects who consider themselves as the traditional rivals of the Orthodox. Often times members of one or another group engage in wild displays of jubilation when weather conditions coincide with the calendar they use.
The next two examples are proverbs which are common among the Muslims of North Lebanon. The Muslims and the Christians have coexisted together for a very long time and have come to learn from each other. The Muslims have drawn the connection between the weather and the Eastern calendar used by the Orthodox.
Easter is a movable feast that falls in the spring season. Some years the Orthodox celebrate Easter at the same date as the other Christian sects. But often the Orthodox Easter is one week, or five weeks, later. In folk belief, Easter is thought to be the end of the cold weather and the beginning of warmer weather. The Muslims believe that the warm season does not start until the Orthodox have celebrated their Easter. There is a popular proverb they commonly quote to that purpose:
“The cold weather lingers on as long as the Orthodox are fasting.”
The second proverb is commonly quoted by shepherds who believe that the winter season ends with the feast of Saint George, on April 23rd. At this time of year all the herds of cattle, sheep, and goats are moved from the warm coastal villages to the cooler villages higher up in the mountains to spend the spring and summer seasons. Moving the herds when the weather is still cold could mean risking their survival.
Here again the shepherds calculate the feast of Saint George according to the Eastern calendar. When asked why they do so they reply with this proverb:
“No herd will survive until after [the feast of] the Orthodox St. George.”
Having emigrated two years ago to North America from Lebanon I have been very impressed with the accuracy of the weather forecast. I watch religiously the weather forecast on television
every morning and plan my schedule accordingly. Low pressure, high winds, cold front moving northwest, clearing in the afternoon, sixty per cent chance of precipitation, temperature below average, satellite pictures, etc.
And in the midst of all this scientific discourse, I remember the old woman who died at the hands of February, the “Alamat as-Salibiyat,” the Muslims waiting for the Orthodox Easter, and the shepherds insisting on the existence of an “Orthodox” Saint George. I wonder how many of our Orthodox people here in the New World may remember or have heard of how deeply faith and such an everyday occurrence as the weather are blended together in more traditional societies.
Dolly Choueiry Crow’ is the Khoureeye of Father Isaac Crow’ of Virgin Mary Church in Yonkers New York.