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August north of the equator has the reputation of being one of the year's hottest months - if not the hottest. We have all heard about the "Dog Days of August" and how hot and baking they are (and, interestingly, the term comes from the ancient Egyptians, who thought that the Dog Star, Sirius, which becomes visible in August, caused the heat of the month). Yet, as the first of the strange facts you can discover about August, it actually isn't the hottest month of the year, despite its reputation. Other than in a few small areas where local weather conditions are unique, July is actually hotter on average than August - by several degrees. The invention of the thermometer should have told everyone that July is hotter, yet nearly everyone still believes in the Dog Days.
August also has several of the strangest "holidays" in the United States, a country that seems to be taking pride in coming up with a weird holiday or two for every day of the day. The two that really stand out are "Wiggle Your Toes Day" and "Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Night," which fall on the 6th and 8th of August respectively. Wiggle Your Toes Day is said to be a day when you should kick off your shoes and socks at some point in the day and let your toes wiggle freely. Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Night is a night when people who have grown too many zucchini squash are supposed to leave some in bag or box on a neighbor's porch or front step - hopefully without being chased like a burglar by their dog. Nobody knows who originated these holidays, but they do have some amount of national recognition.
Americans aren't the only ones with weird and whimsical holidays in August. The British get in on the act with the Bog Snorkeling Championships, in which contestants don a snorkel and flippers to swim two laps along a murky watercourse in a peat bog in Wales. Held every year on the last Monday in August at the Waen Rhydd Peat Bog in central Wales, many people come to the event every year to race each other along this muddy, clammy stream. There are sections for kids, women, and men, and as if holding a snorkeling race in a swamp weren't strange enough already, there is also a section where people can compete in the race wearing fancy dress - which, of course, is totally ruined by the bog water.
One of the world's most famous meteor showers, the Perseids, happens in the middle of August every year - and has been happening then for at least 2,000 years, almost back to the time of Julius Caesar. The meteor shower is actually made up of pieces of the Swift-Tuttle comet, which passes by every year with chunks of rock and ice spewing off it like car parts falling off a breaking-down car in a cartoon. The best view of this meteor shower is in the early morning, north of the equator, when you might be able to see as many as 60 meteors each hour.
Although August doesn't seem too spooky next to the yellow moon and bare branches of October, it is the time of year when the Japanese celebrate their equivalent of Halloween - the Bon Festival. This festival is dedicated both to the spirits of their ancestors and to helping the "hungry ghosts" who are believed to wander the world. Nowadays, it's often used as an occasion for family reunions, but in many places, the traditional costumed Bon dances are carried out and Bon music is played. In some American cities, Japanese volunteers float thousands of paper lanterns down any major river at night. This resembles the carving of jack-o-lanterns most of us are familiar with, and it's a strange fact that similar holidays should have a similar nighttime customs even though they were invented long ago on opposite sides of the world.