Giorni della Merla: Italy's legend of the blackbird and the last three days of January

Italian folklore celebrates the Giorni della Merla amid hopes for a beautiful spring.

One of Italy's best known legends in winter revolves around a bird and the last three days in January, a tradition known as i giorni della merla, or the Days of the Blackbird.

According to tradition, if the days of 29, 30 and 31 January are particularly cold, the incoming spring should be warm and sunny and arrive early. If the contrary, spring will be late and rainy.

Legend has it that these final days of January are traditionally the coldest in the year (even this is not supported by any scientific evidence and this weekend the temperatures in Rome will be relatively mild).

So where did this old Italian adage originate?

There are various versions of the ancient tale, all of which involve the blackbird, la merla, and the last days of January.

The most popular version tells the story long ago of a white blackbird tormented by a spiteful January, which at the time had 28 days while February had 31.

Every time the poor blackbird left her nest to seek food, the mischievous January pounced on her with snow, freezing temperatures and an icy breeze.

The following January the blackbird stocked up on food and stayed in her nest for 28 days before emerging triumphant to sing and tease January.

In revenge, the resentful month borrowed three days from February and unleashed a fierce snow storm, causing the blackbird to go into hiding once again.

The bird took shelter in a chimney pot, where she stayed for three days, and when she emerged on 1 February her white feathers were forever black with soot.