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Who Are The Three Ice Men?

Who Are The Three Ice Men?

Perhaps you’ve heard the old proverb that warns not to plant until after the “Three Ice Men” have passed, but do you know who these mysterious Ice Men are? The tradition comes from Northern Europe, and is tied to the successive feasts of St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius, whose respective days occur on May 11, 12, and 13. They are also sometimes referred to as the “Three Chilly Saints.”

Who Are The Three Ice Men?

In Europe’s not-too-distant past, parts of the continent remained rather cold through the middle of May, making planting before then risky. German and Swiss lore refers to mid-May as “Iceman Days,” while an old French saying states “Saint Mammertius, Saint Pancratius and Saint Gervatius (the Francophone spelling of the three saints’ names) do not pass without a frost.” Because the agrarian people of medieval Europe weren’t likely to be literate, let alone aware of calendar dates, they measured time by observing nature and by the church calendar.

Remembering that the last frost of the year generally falls around the feast of Servatius was a useful marker for pre-modern farmers.

More “Chilly Saints” Lore

In some regions, the lore goes on to note that rain will fall on Feast of St. Sophia, marking the beginning of planting season. For this reason, May 15 is referred to as “Zimna Zoska,” or “Cold Sophia” in Poland.

One point of interest is that this bit of lore dates back to before the creation of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, at which time most days of the year shifted somewhat. While the feasts of the Three Chilly Saints are still celebrated from May 11-13 on our calendar, these days used to fall a little later in the astronomical year—from May 19-22.

Do you wait until after the Ice Men to plant your garden in spring?  Or maybe you follow the Mother’s Day Rule? Let us know in the comments below.

Check out our Gardening by the Moon Calendar for best days to plant…

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  • Mary Jo Digel says:

    People laugh when I mention the three ice men but this is really a fairly accurate gauge of the weather. At least here in mid Ohio. Mother said to never plant before May 20.

  • carneg says:

    I always plant after memorial day to be safe. Bringing the seedlings out on nice day before then. But for tomatoes and beans in direct ground with other seeds squash etc. Works for me in CT

  • Terri says:

    Illinois resident here. My father was a farmer all of his life and always told us to wait until after May 15th to plant our above ground crops.

  • Skiff Hair says:

    We here in South Carolina, tend to not plant our outside plants, tomatoes, peppers and such, until after the Masters golf tournament. That is usually our last frost. This year seems to be a little different. I have covered my outside plants, just in case!

  • If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

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