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Holiday Folklore and Facts

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You may know about the major holidays but here are some facts, folklore, and traditions to celebrate more holidays throughout the year!

January 1: New Year's Day

Named for the Roman god Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings, January was originally the 11th month, not the 1st, until at least 153 B.C. Janus looks simultaneously to the future and the past, a fitting symbol for this first day of the year. The weather of the first 12 days of the year is said to be indicative of the following 12 months. See New Year traditions from around the world.

The first Monday of the year: Handsel Monday

According to Scottish custom, the first Monday of the new year was the time to give children and servants a small gift, or handsel. Literally something given into the hands of someone else, the gift itself was less important than the good luck it signified. The tradition continues today in the form of a housewarming gift to someone moving into a new home.

February 2: Groundhog Day

Traditionally, this was the day to prepare for spring planting. If it were sunny and a certain animal saw its shadow, people believed that winter weather would continue. In France and England, that animal was a bear. In Germany, it was a badger. In the 1800s, German immigrants to Pennsylvania found no badgers but lots of groundhogs, or woodchucks, so they adapted that species to the lore.  See more about the origins of Groundhog Day and the celtic calendar.

March 15: The Ides of March

In the ancient Roman calendar, “the ides,” marked the middle of some months. Ever since the assassination of Julius Caesar on this day in 44 B.C., the ides of March have been considered unlucky. “Beware the ides of March.”

March 29, 30, 31: The Borrowing Days

The last three days of March have a reputation for being stormy. Scottish folklore proposes that these three days were borrowed from April so that March might extend his power.

March borrowit from April
Three days, and they were ill:
The first was frost, the second was snaw,
The third was cauld as ever't could blaw.

–Scottish proverb

April 1: All Fools' Day

Centuries ago in France, new-year celebrations started on March 25 (the first day of the new year, according to old calendars) and lasted until April 1. Starting in 1852, when New Year's Day was moved to January 1, it's said that people who didn't observe the change were made the butts of jokes on April 1.

April's last Friday: National Arbor Day

When J. Sterling Morton moved to the Nebraska Territory in 1854, he noticed the lack of trees there. He planted some, both to beautify the area and preserve the soil. Other people did too, and Arbor Day was first celebrated in 1872. Plant a tree!

May 11, 12, 13: Three Chilly Saints

These three days are often the coldest of May. Because they are the feast days of the Christian saints named Mamertus, Pancras, and Gervais, the days themselves have come to be known as the Three Chilly Saints.

June 14: Flag Day

The U.S. Continental Congress adopted the first American flag on this day in 1777. Flag Day was first celebrated in 1877. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established this day as Flag Day. Refresh your memory on the American Flag Guidelines.

July 1: Canada Day

Canada Day, so named by Parliament in 1982, commemorates the creation of the Dominion of Canada on this day in 1867.

July 3: Dog Days begin

Ancient Egyptians thought the the bright Dog Star, Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, caused heat and droughts, sickness, and discomfort beginning today and lasting for 40 days (until August 1).

August 17: Cat Nights commence

Have you heard the saying “a cat has nine lives”? It is from an Irish legend about witches who turned themselves into cats and back into people eight times. On the ninth time, this day, they couldn't turn back!

September 22 (or 23): Harvest Home

Around this day in Europe, people celebrated the harvest with festivals and feasts. Today, the Pennsylvania Dutch continue the tradition.

October 9: Leif Eriksson Day

The Viking voyager landed his boat on Newfoundland in the year 1000. He did not officially discover America, but the U.S. Congress honors him with this day.

The first Saturday in November: Sadie Hawkins Day

Cartoonist Al Capp invented this holiday for his comic strip “Li'l Abner.” Today, it is an occasion for girls to ask boys to school dances and other events.

December 26: Boxing Day

In England, it is customary to give gift “boxes” to mailmen and servants on this day. Today, in Great Britain, Canada, and Australia, it is a day of rest.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann