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The almanac and its place in PA German culture

Posted by Rob Phoenix on September 21, 2021 at 4:40 PM

Pennsylvania German culture is rich with folklore and quaint folksy traditions. One of the more popular traditions that has spanned well over 400 years is the use of the Farmers Almanac.


The Almanac has been a household friend since the earliest arrival of German-speaking immigrants to the Commonwealth. We as a people rely on the almanac for weather forecasts, moon lore, planting and harvesting days, as well as other numerous items as laid out by Julius F. Sachse in a 1907 essay titled "Porgnostics and Superstitions":

 


 

The Aberglaube (superstitions) of the early Germans may be said to have been divided into at least a hundred different forms, the scale running all the way from a simple belief in the efficiency of Bible verses promiscuously selected down to demonology itself. Perhaps the most common of these superstitions was what was known as Kalender-Aberglaube, or a belief in prognostics based upon the almanac. This was again subdivided into various departments, based upon the phases of the moon and other celestial bodies. This, however, is not to be confounded with the custom of astrology or the casting of the horoscope. To any person schooled in the art, the almanac became the guide and mentor for almost every function of daily life. First, it told us of the state of the weather for every day of the coming year; then it informed us what were to be the prevalent diseases, gave us the proper days for felling timber, taking purgative medicine, for bleeding and blood-letting, for cutting the hair, for weaning calves, children, etc. It gave the lucky days for sowing grain, the proper days for a merchant to speculate, and for other daily avocations.


I consult the almanac weekly for weather, planting, harvesting, and other advice as one might need with a large property and animals and plants to tend to. There are extra bonus articles that can give you all sorts of advice, ranging from the best time of day to catch fish to how to properly install a fence post! Truly, the almanac is the best friend you can ever have!


Consider this by poet Mark Louden...

 

Mark L. Louden reciting “Mother’s Almanac”

“Mother’s Almanac”


 

Faith has much to do

With our human life;

The lawyer believes in big pay,

The minister believes in praying;

The young girls get a lot of joy

From their faith in men;

Mother takes the good old way,

And believes in the almanac.


 

Sie always observes the signs,

Before we dig the garden;

And goes by the moon, you can bet on it,

For that is her faith.

In order to grow well, everything must go in

During the waxing of the moon;

Thus she plants in that sign,

As others do, as well.


 

Potatoes you plant in Libra,

Then they get nice and big;

You might think that’s a joke,

But I’m not so narrow-minded.

That’s why I wish they would not slip

Down so deep into the ground,

And if there were no such sign,

They would not be so round.


 

So if you don’t watch the sign,

Just as it is in the almanac,

Then your potatoes will be ruined,

And we’ll have nothing to sell;


I tell you now, don’t plant in Cancer—

They crawl down too deep,

And get as warty as a toad

And also taste bad.


 

Cucumbers, really, you may not

Plant in the sign of Gemini,

Otherwise they just go ahead and bloom

And creep around like roaches;

That sign is not for a good crop,

They just don’t form on the vine—

Whoever wants cucumbers, doesn’t plant

In the sign of Gemini.


 

But now, whoever likes flowers,

This sign is the best;

The blossoming virgin is also good

For planting flowers.

In spring here, in Virgo, that is,

You let the hens out,

Whoever goes by this sign then gets

Better chicks from them.


 

When bees swarm in Libra,

Honey becomes plentiful in the hive;

If a cat drowns in a water trough,

At least it won’t die of thirst.

When fruit trees are in full bloom

While the moon waxes, there’ll be fruit;

But if the trees blossom during the waning,

There’s not much you can do.


 

 

In the setting moon you roof a house,

That keeps the shingles down;

And whoever doesn’t build according to the almanac,

His shingles will be down right away.

To roof during the waxing of the moon,

That’s the wrong thing;

The shingles curl right up,

And you get a ragged roof.


 

You make the post fence according to the moon,

But just when it is setting;

The posts will not stay in the ground

In any other sign.

So, don’t laugh, and take heed,

I’ll tell you that in advance,—

Whoever makes fence in the waxing of the moon,

His posts will creep out.


 

Some poke fun, there are such people,

Especially among the menfolk,

Yet they are in no way as smart

As Mother’s almanac.

“An old wives’ tale, ha!”

That’s what they always say,

But faith will still save,

And it rules digging in the garden.


 

Libra is supposed to be good for planting,

But some also put in potatoes

In the Aries waxing moon,

That’s just testing.


And for good luck with radishes

Seeds have to be planted in Pisces,

That means that radishes will be tender and thick

And plenty on the table.


 

In the fall apples have to be put away,

And so that they don’t rot

You have to do this in the dark moon, you bet,

Even if the men-folk complain.

To get vinegar you need to tap the cider

In the sign of Leo, definitely:

That makes you as strong as ginger pop,

And as crusty as an old grouch.


 

But winter meat should not be

Hung up in the sign of Leo,

Otherwise it will get as “lively” as a lion—

One definitely wouldn’t think that!

White worms will move right in,

If no one goes fishing,

That way you get fresh meat, too,

If you don’t understand the sign.


 

A board left out in the weather

Often gets quite warped,

But one doesn’t consider the reason

As being the influence of the moon;

In the waxing of the moon the board turns up,

In the waning down,—

It all depends how the moon shines on it.

Isn’t that amazing?


 

You don’t clean your house in a full moon,

That’s the wives’ tale,

For if you do, the house will fill up

Terribly with moths;

That just goes to show, moths go

By the moon sign in the almanac,

Apparently they are sharper

Than our clever menfolk.


 

The signs have the world in order,—

Capricorn, Pisces, and Aries,

Leo, Libra, Aquarius,

Taurus, he’ll knock you down;

Sagittarius, he shoots, Aquarius pours,

We have Cancer and Gemini,

Scorpio stings, Virgo speaks,

That’s how you find it in the almanac.


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