What in the World are Ember Days?

The Old Farmer's Almanac by Robert B. Thomas has been in publication since the year 1792 and is still relied on by many as a daily guide for gardening.

 

If you happen to know about a publication thatís been around since 1792, (yes, thatís right, 1792) and makes the claim that itís North America's oldest continuously published periodical, providing people from all walks of life with helpful gardening, weather, and astronomical information, along with stories, anecdotes, puzzles, and contests, more than likely you were born before the 1950's. The publication Iím referring to is (and be sure you get this name right) "The Old Farmerís Almanac by Robert B. Thomas." Recently I went in search of an Almanac, and boy did I get fooled, not once, but twice, and almost three times. Before I could locate a copy of the one I wanted, I came across at least five other versions, and didnít realize until I had already purchased two that neither one was what I was looking for.

My quest for a copy of "The Old Farmerís Almanac" came about because of a phrase I recently heard Bill Warren use in a conversation he was having about how to get rid of wild rose bushes etc. in fields and pastures. I asked Bill about the meaning of "Ember Days," but he didnít know for sure what it meant. He did know that when the Almanac calendar indicated certain days of the month were "Ember Days," unwanted trees and shrubs could be cut down and would not come back again. That conversation peeked my curiosity enough to begin a search to try to figure out the true meaning of "Ember Days."

Hereís what Iíve found so far. I located information on the internet about a book published by Jack R. Pyle and Taylor Reese entitled "Raising With The Moon, The Complete Guide to Gardening and Living By the Signs of the Moon." Part of the information found in that book says: "Ember Days are religious holidays for prayer and fasting. But these holidays are said to be excellent for destroying unwanted growth. Ember Days do not fall into any moon phase or sign. They can occur in any of the four phases of the moon and in any sign. Unwanted growth cut during Ember Days regardless of the phase of the moon will die or come back so weakened that it is an easy matter to eliminate. Some Almanacs list only one Ember Day. Only Wednesday will be shown, but the following Friday and Saturday are also Ember Days, even if they are not marked as such."

The Old Farmerís Almanacís explanation in part about Ember Days says this: "The Almanac traditionally marks the four periods formerly observed by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches for prayer, fasting, and the ordination of clergy. Folklore has it that the weather on Ember Days foretells the weather for three successive months, that is, for Septemberís Ember Days, Wednesday forecasts weather for October, Friday for November, and Saturday for December."

Gruder Carmack remembers hearing the term "deadening" which came about when folks would gather to help a neighbor clear unwanted trees and undergrowth for a new ground. He told me this was always done during Ember Days.

I wonder how many people still rely on the Almanac for planting of gardens. My in-laws always did. They raised a garden big enough to feed everybody in Overton County and then some, but never sowed a seed or set out a plant without consulting the Almanac. My father-in-law always kept a Black Draught/Cardui calendar from J.D. Coleman and Sons General Merchandise store hanging by the front door of their home. Those calendars were saved from year to year, and three times a day, my father-in-law faithfully recorded the temperature. The first one would be written down when he got up each morning, the next one put down at dinner time, and the last one around supper time each night. He also made notes about how much rain or how much snow had fallen on certain days. Holtís Family Pharmacy gives those same calendars away, and seeing one again brought back a lot of memories when I stopped by there recently.

And in addition to the Black Draught/Cardui calendar from Holtís, they also have copies of "Grierís Almanac 2007." That particular Almanac shows these dates as Ember Days in 2007 as being February 28, March 2, March 3; May 30, June 1, June 2; September 19, 21, 22; December 19, 21, 22. The Old Farmerís Almanac calendar dates for Ember Days are exactly the same as Grierís.

Iíve discovered thereís a wealth of information in that little copy of "The Old Farmerís Almanac" I was finally successful in locating a copy of. For example, the Almanac indicates scientific research was conducted, and it has been determined that redheads feel more pain than those of other hair color. When I read this, I realized why, when the redhead in our family was small, she would practically pass out at the thought of getting a tooth pulled, even though it might be just hanging by a thread in her mouth. I always though she was just exaggerating, but now that Iíve read it in the Almanac, I know I was probably wrong about the amount of pain she felt. I guess I owe her an apology for the number of times Iíve had to just about hog-tie her to pull a tooth.

Dog Days are also talked about in "The Old Farmerís Almanac." The dates for 2007 are July 3 through August 11. The Almanac says "these are the hottest and most unhealthy days of the year." But thatís about all the information it gives. My mother-in-law always said you should never have a tooth pulled during Dog Days because it would bleed too much. Something else I had never heard of is also listed in the Almanac. Itís called "Cat Nights." This begins August 17. The explanation given says "this term harks back to the days when people believed in witches. An old Irish legend says that a witch could turn into a cat and regain herself eight times, but on the ninth time, August 17, she couldnít change back, hence the saying, A cat has nine lives. Because August is a "yowly" time for cats, this may have prompted the speculation about witches on the prowl in the first place."

In a Question and Answer section, the question is asked, which month are the most people born in? The Answer - August. About 21 million Americans, or nine percent of the population, have birthdays in August.

Even though finding the right copy of the particular Almanac I was looking for took some doing, I must say feel a little bit more educated not only about the term Ember Days, but about redheads too. But I do have a question I hope someone out there can help me with. If Ember Days began as religious holidays, what is the connection with getting rid of unwanted growth? If there is anyone who knows the answer, I would really like to hear from you. In the meantime, if you are like me and hadnít heard of Ember Days before, mark those dates on your calendar and try an experiment to see if it works. And for sure, donít forget to mark August 17 for the beginning of Cat Nights!

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Links to some interesting Websites: 

The Old Farmers Almanac Website

The Black Draught/Cardui Calendar:

    The Cardui Calendar and the Ladies Birthday Almanac were both printed by the Chattanooga Medicine Company, later known as the Chattem Drug & Chemical Co. You can still order copies directly from the company.

     http://www.chattem.com/about/marketing.asp

     http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=C063

Grier's Almanac

     Grier's Almanac based out of Atlanta has limited information available on the internet. Some history can be found here:  http://southernedition.com/GriersAlmanac200Years.html  The information available suggests that copies of the almanac are available through direct mail.

     The company's contact information is:     

Phone: 770-395-6381
Fax: 770-512-0631
Email: bachlerb@bellsouth.net
Address: 5123 Charmant Place
Atlanta, GA 30360