‘St Swithin’s Day if it doth rain for 40 days it will remain.
St Swithin’s Day if thou be fair, for 40 days it rain na mair’
You can read more about St Swithin, the Michael Fish of the ninth century, in our July issue. But put briefly, if it’s damp on the day, invest in a good umbrella; you’re going to need it.
If you didn’t know that 15 July is St Swithin’s Day, you might know it as ‘Dex and Em’s Day’, the protagonists of the novel One Day by David Nicholl. The novel begins on 15 July as Dex and Em graduate and revisits them each St Swithin’s Day for the next 20 years.
But what was the significance of the day for the author? A mixture of very little and random interest, it turns out. Nicholl says that he had to pick a day that would work as a graduation date and British universities tend to hold these in mid July. He wanted a day that wasn’t a ‘big date’ such as Valentine’s Day or Christmas: “St Swithin’s Day felt suitably random,” he told the Oxonian Review. But he needed a date that would resonate with the characters and act as a plot hook, too. “I liked the mythology of St Swithin’s Day, which is about our desire and inability to predict the future. Thematically that seemed right. And there’s a song about lost love by Billy Bragg that is called 'St Swithin’s Day'. To me, that song was the unofficial soundtrack to the book.” What St Swithin would have made of Mr Bragg we’re not certain, but suitably random it certainly is. We’ll be picking up our copies of One Day again to mark the date.
Read more about St Swithin’s Day in our ‘Stories Behind Superstitions’ slot in the Miscellany pages of our July ‘Embrace’ issue.