Turns out, while Americans wait and see if a groundhog will see its shadow, the Italians have their own mother nature equivalent. I giorni della merla - The blackbird's days which fall on the last three days of January and indicating the coldest days of winter. And although weathermen report that there are (often) days much colder, and with this year's record high temps, the legend has stuck.
But leave it to the Italians and their gift for gab and you'll find that the legend has now morphed into a number of different tales, to be recalled by future generations, depending on your point of view. So, pick your tale:
I. During a very cold winter in Milan's Porta Nuova (I like this, my old stomping grounds)...a family of white birds took refuge in a courtyard of a palazzo. The father could not find food due to the cover of fallen snow. It kept right on snowing, so the father bird decided to fly out of the snowstorm looking for food. Before he left, he settled the mother & three baby birds near a smokestack for warmth. Able to return only after the storm had passed (3 days), he found his family black with soot. The sun came out in February, marking the end of winter, but by then even the papa bird had turned black and from then on, blackbirds were born.
II. ...It was so cold that the family - unable to even flap their wings - perched its nest atop the smokestack. Finally, after three days they could fly away - but by that time the white birds had turned black, and from that point on, the blackbird came to be.
III. This version becomes more dark (in tutti sensi): The papa bird left his family inside the chimney, and went out to search for food. Upon his return, finding his mate all black, he didn't recognize her and left. She died of hunger.
IV. Two young blackbirds return to the hometown of the young female in order to marry, situated beyond the Po River. Afterwards, once they left for home, back over the river, it got to be too late and too cold. So they spent two days more nearby with relatives. On the third day, their next attempt, it was so cold that the male died -- and that's why today you can still hear the lament of the female along the Po river each end of January.
One astute blogger reported the actual temperature indications. In fact, they found that:
The average temperature of the three days in question is 3.6 degrees celsius, while the average of all of January is 2.8 degrees. At nearly 1 degree more, it "proves" that legends and tall tales are just that, indeed.
Nonetheless, be sure to throw an extra blanket on your bed just to be sure...