The last three days of January are supposedly the coldest of the year, but what do they have to do with blackbirds?
They are called “giorni della merla”, which means “the days of the female blackbird.” They are the last three days of January. Even if, in some parts of Italy they are the last two days of January and the first of February. And, according to the tradition, they are supposed to be the coldest days of the year. Also, the colder they are, the sooner the spring will arrive and be proportionally beautiful. Meteorologiscal statistics do not confirm this, but this is a detail too small to interfere with a centuries-old belief.
In many areas of Northern Italy, the days of the blackbird are celebrated reliving the ancient peasant atmosphere in front of large bonfires either in front of churches or on river banks. Often, a choir dressed in peasant clothes (women with skirts and shawls, men with capes and hats) sing old songs while everyone enjoys wine and traditional foods. The lyrics of the songs differ slightly from one village to another, but they all have in common the themes of winter and love. The same themes are found in many versions of the legend behind this tradition.
The days of the blackbird are celebrated reliving the ancient peasant atmosphere in front of large bonfires either in front of churches or on river banks
In 1740, among the different hypothetical origins of the term “giorni della merla”, Sebastiano Pauli wrote about a Noble Lady called de Merli. She wanted to cross the Po river to rejoin her husband, but to do so, she had to wait for the river to freeze during the coldest days of the year, the last three of January.
Most of the other accounts of the legend have actual blackbirds as protagonists. However, at the beginning of the story, they had white plumage. For different reasons, depending on the version of the legend, the birds ended up finding shelter from the intense cold inside a chimney. When they emerged, three days later, their bodies were covered in soot and, from that day on, all blackbirds became black.
Ilona Catani Scarlett