Just about everyone has heard The Twelve Days of Christmas song: that one about partridges and pear trees. And maybe you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s play entitled, Twelfth Night. But during the Middle Ages the twelve days of Christmas were also important for predicting the weather in the coming year.
When are the Twelve Days?
If you thought the Christmas season ended on December 25, you would be wrong: That’s just the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas.
In the sixth century, the days between Christmas and Epiphany (6 Jan) were set aside for sacred festivities. It was a reminder of the Biblical Nativity story and a celebration of the time between Jesus’ birth and the visit of the kings (or magi). So Christmas day, 25 Dec, is the first day of Christmas and the day before Epiphany, 5 January, is the twelfth (and last) day of Christmas.
Today we mostly associate partridges and pear trees with the twelve days of Christmas, but according to Medieval tradition, these twelve days would forecast the weather for the entire coming year: The first day of Christmas gives us an indication of the weather in January, the second day for February, the third day for March, and so on…
But in addition to predicting the weather, the 12 days of Christmas also foretold of economic fortunes, health, political unrest, crop success, etc. with the main indicators being wind, sunshine, and thunder.
Here’s what to look out for:
25 December – First Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of January.
Wind: A windy Christmas means there will be good weather in the year ahead. But it could also indicate a financially difficult year for the wealthy.
Sun: Sunshine means everyone will enjoy a happy and prosperous year.
26 December – Second Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of February.
Wind: Wind means it will be a bad year for fruit.
Sun: Sunshine on the second day of Christmas is a good sign: money will come easily in the new year.
27 December – Third Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of March.
Wind: If it’s windy, the coming year will be good for cereal crops.
Sun: A sunny day means economic gain. However the poor will fight among themselves while the rulers make peace.
28 December – Fourth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of April.
Wind: If it’s a windy day, it’ll be a bad year for cereal crops and finances.
Sun: Sunshine predicts wealth and plenty in the coming year.
29 December – Fifth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of May.
Wind: Strong winds mean the coming year will bring many storms at sea.
Sun: Sunshine forecasts plenty of flowers and fruit.
30 December – Sixth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of June.
Wind: A windy day predicts political unrest and scandal.
Sun: Sunshine means it will be a good year for dairy cattle.
31 December – Seventh Day of Christmas – New Year’s Eve
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of July.
Winds: A windy day means there is a high risk of fire in the first half of the coming year.
Sun: Sunshine means it’ll be a good year for trees.
Thunder: Thunder toward the end of the day, bad times are on the way.
If New Year’s Eve night’s wind blows south
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk and fish in the sea;
If north, much cold and storms there will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north east, flee it man and brute.
1 January – Eighth Day of Christmas – New Year’s Day
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of August.
Wind: A windy day means ill health for the elderly.
Sun: Sunshine means that mercury will be easy to get in the coming year. (This must have been important in medieval times.)
Thunder: Thunder during the early part of New Year’s Day means good times, and afternoon thunder means successful crops.
2 January – Ninth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of September.
Wind: Strong wind means damaging storms.
Sun: Sunshine on this day predicts a very good year for our feathered friends.
Thunder: is same as New Year’s Day.
3 January – Tenth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of October.
Wind: Storms are in the forecast.
Sun: Sunshine foretells a prosperous year with a good supply of fish.
Thunder: Thunder is the same as on New Year’s Day.
4 January – Eleventh Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of November.
It seems that wind, sun and thunder all predict terrible events on this day. So let’s hope for a nice mild, cloudy day.
5 January – Twelfth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of December.
Wind: A windy day means political troubles.
Sun: A sunny day means a year of hard work is ahead.
Thunder: Thunder warns of mighty storms.
And then there are some general predictions:
If it rains much during the twelve days of Christmas, the coming year will also be a wet one.
If there’s thunder during Christmas week,
The winter will be anything but meek.
If it’s dark and foggy between Christmas and Epiphany, there will be a lot of sickness next year.
Thunderstorms on any day in late December could be a good omen for the coming year. But it depends on when the thunder booms: Early-afternoon thunder is the best, mid-afternoon is still good, but thunder later in the day just indicates storms.
Personal Good Luck
If the twelve days predict dire things for your part of the world, there’s a delicious and easy way to guarantee your own personal good luck: Eat mince pies. A medieval legend says that for every mince pie you eat during the twelve days of Christmas you will have one month of good luck in the new year.
With all the above information at my disposal, this is my prediction for London in 2020: A sunny Christmas day has foretold that London will enjoy a happy and prosperous year. We should be blessed with plenty of flowers and fruit. The dairy industry will be healthy and it will be a good year for fishing.
Wishing you a year filled with goodness!
Sources: University of Reading and Widow’s Weeds
*Some people start counting the 12 days on the day after Christmas and then the twelfth day is on 6 January.
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Fabulous, Margo. And, so interesting. I hope the first parts are right, as we had a sunny Christmas Day in Melbourne!
The other thing we often hear around Christmas is the audio play: “Not Another Partridge” is the title (I think). The actress Penelope Keith plays the part of Cynthia Bracegirdle whose lover gives her the gifts on all the 12 days. I am sure it is on the Internet . Do listen, it is very funny.
Regrettably, the fires continue with all the consequent disasters. Today, we have a lot of smoke in Melbourne….
I hope 2020 will be another very good – happy and healthy – year for you and your husband. Best Wishes, Paula
Hi Paula, I hope the fires get under control very soon. Stay safe!
Thanks for recommending “Yet another Partridge in a Pear Tree.” I hadn’t heard it before, but It’s quite funny and I really enjoyed it. Thankfully, this year I didn’t receive any of those lovely gifts. 🙂
Let’s hope that 2020 bring loads of happiness to us all!
All the best,
Very interesting, as always Margo. I found myself watching the Hairy Bikers over Christmas. They said that Oliver Cromwell made it illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas day and the law has never been repealed, so if you do eat one, you’re actually breaking the law!
Oh, that Oliver Cromwell was a real humbug! He did away with anything having to do with Christmas.
But whether it’s still illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas today is still up for debate: According to the Law Commission, the law did not remain on the books after Cromwell’s reign. However, at least one historian disagrees: Mark Connelly from the University of Kent has claimed that the ban of eating mince pies still hasn’t been abolished.
Oh well, I think I’ll just take my chances… 🙂
This is a custom followed by some members of my family in the U.S., and it is interesting to know the origin. Many thanks!
Hi Linda, You’re welcome.
I always intend to keep track of the weather during the 12 days of Christmas but I always end up forgetting to jot it down. I think your family is better at it than I am.
Anyway, I hope the prediction will be for a really good 2021. 🙂
All the best -Margo