Pineapple rain. The wolves are marrying. The hyena is giving birth. The Devil is doing…something.
Or maybe it’s just a perfectly normal meteorological condition that happens when the clouds part during a rainstorm?
The truth is always a little more boring than the colorful myths and allegories we come up with, but one thing that does baffle and perplex us is just how many ways there are to describe a sun shower. Almost every culture has an expression for this woven into its folklore, and it’s one of five universal behaviors that made it on to this list of “eerily specific things every human does the same.” The variety of weather idioms for “sun shower” is inexhaustible, but most of them center around similar themes.
In the United States, it’s usually a variation on “the Devil’s beating his wife.” As with most folk expressions, it’s impossible to say for sure where this originated, but some say that it’s because the Devil is angry at God’s gorgeous sunshine, so he takes his anger out on his wife, and her tears are the rain. This is an expression that you’ll generally only hear in the Southeastern portion of the United States. Some people in Tennessee say that “the Devil’s kissing his wife,” and still other variants insist that “the Devil’s chasing his wife for burning up the rice.” You can even trace this trope to Haiti, where you might hear that the Devil is beating his wife for putting too much salt in his food.
In other parts of the world, weather idioms for sun showers indicate that there’s an animal wedding of some sort. “Fox’s wedding” is probably the most popular variation of this, but you might also hear of a fox marrying a tiger, or perhaps a Korean version in which a lovelorn fox was in love with a tiger and cried when the tiger married someone else. In Japan, this takes on a slightly more spiritual meaning when it takes the form of a “kitsune’s wedding.” Kitsune are the magical, trickster fox spirits associated with the Shinto tradition. No one knows for sure how kitsune came to be associated with sun showers, but one such myth is that the kitsune summoned the rain to hide their wedding ceremony. No matter how you arrange the marriage, the underlying theme is sort of the same: some trickery is afoot that contradicts the natural order of things.
In 1998, an assistant professor of linguistics at Harvard University made an attempt to compile a comprehensive list of expressions for “sun shower,” and the responses were overwhelming. Here are a few selections:
Armenian: The wolf is giving birth on the mountain
Cape Verdean: The groom has eaten unheated food
Catalan: The witches comb their hair
English: The Devil’s beating his wife with a codfish
Finnish: A wedding is being celebrated in Hades
German: The Devil has a parish fair
Greek: The poor are getting married
Hindi: The jackal’s wedding
Polish: The witch is making butter
Portuguese: The witches are making soft bread
Spanish: The rabbits are giving birth
Zulu: Monkey’s wedding