Saturday, July 1, 2017


When pressed, I will concede that even summer has certain charms. As a child, although it was still my least favorite season, I looked forward to going to the beach with my cousins and Sunday picnics with the extended family. Later, in grad school, summer was a relaxed time - days spent in the library, but at a more leisurely pace with lots of social time. Even so, it was always miserably hot and humid. (In the Northern hemisphere, it is on average the warmest month.) The ancients appropriately called this time of year the "Dog Days" and associated them with the ailments that accompany the heat. Before being renamed the "Temperature Humidity Index," the daily weather report used to announce the day's "Discomfort Index," (especially appropriate back in those days when most of us lacked access to air-conditioning).

July, of course, comes at the year's mid-point, the 7th month of our 12-month solar year. In the original Roman calendar (attributed to Romulus himself and which began with March) it was counted as the 5th month, Qunitilis. Like September, October, November, and December, all echoes of that older numbering, Quinitllis at first kept its name in the Julian calendar. But, after Cesar's death (and presumptive deification), it was renamed in his honor, and 10 days of games were henceforth celebrated in Caesar's honor every July. (Caesar's birthday was July 13.)

In England, July 15 is Saint Swithin's Day. (Swithin was a 9th-century Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester.) According to a superstitious tradition, whatever the weather does that day - sun or rain - the same will continue for 40 days more. Not a particularly pleasant prospect either way!

Much more pleasantly, in the United States July is National Hot Dog Month, presumably because of the ubiquity of hot dogs at summer picnics and outdoor barbecues - and, of course, the cultural association of hot dogs with the July 4 holiday. As the hottest month, it is also appropriately designated as National Ice Cream Month in the United States.

If we must necessarily suffer through July, I agree that hot dogs and ice cream can certainly help make the month much more endurable!

(Photo: July from the justly famous Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, an early 15th-century prayer book, which is generally considered perhaps the best surviving example of medieval French Gothic manuscript illumination)

No comments:

Post a Comment