The days are getting shorter, the nights are drawing in and autumn is knocking on our door. Here are 10 fall words from around the world to get you in the mood for the changing season.
1. Calavera (Spanish)
Translation: a Day of the Dead skull
We love autumn because it’s full of festivities and Día de los Muertos is right up there in our list of favorite holidays. For this celebrations, there’s nothing more iconic than the calaveras, skulls made from alfeñique (a mixture of sugar, hot water and lemon) or clay, and heavily decorated with flowers, beads, feathers, icing and other decorations.
You’ll find them adorning ofrendas (altars), paper crafts and other works of art. As such, they’re truly at the heart and soul (no pun intended) of this special festival.
2. Conkers (British English)
Translation: a traditional children’s game using horse chestnuts
Autumn is chestnut season, and the UK is a country blessed with nearly half a million horse chestnut trees. As chestnuts begin to fall from their trees around late September, British kids all over the country collect some shoelaces, drill and varnish out their chestnuts, and prepare for battle.
The game, which dates back to the 19th century, is played between two people, each with their own conker. To play, you need to drill a hole in a hard conker and thread a 20cm piece of string (usually a shoelace) through it. Tie a knot at both ends to secure your seed and take turns trying to hit each other’s conker until one of them breaks.
If you’re taking the game seriously, however, you need to know how to cheat. Bake your conker briefly in the oven, soak it in vinegar or paint it with nail varnish because the hardest conkers always win.
3. Herbstlaubtrittvergnügen (German)
Translation: the pleasure of kicking through a pile of autumn leaves
No list of fall words would be complete without a long, lovey German word. After all, Germans love playing with their compound words. Herbstlaubtrittvergnügen is a noun that conjures up warm images of romantic walks through the park, kicking piles of crisp golden leaves, hand-in-hand with your loved one.
It comes from the words Herbst (autumn), Laub (leaves), Tritt (kick) and Vergnügen (pleasure).
4. O’ Zapft Is (German)
Translation: it is tapped
Much like our previous selection, no good list of autumn words can do without mentioning Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest, despite its name, actually starts in September. Historically, the starting date was moved from October to September so that visitors could enjoy warmer weather.
Regular patrons, however, will tell you that Oktoberfest can only truly start when the Mayor of Munich breaks open the first keg in the Schottenhamel tent with his wooden hammer. (In 1950, it took Mayor Thomas Wimmer 19 hammer blows to break open the first keg!)
Twelve firecrackers are then set off as they proudly announce to the world: O’ Zapft is! In the Bavarian dialect, this literally means “it has been tapped,” but more loosely translates to “Let the party begin!”
5. Pumpa (Swedish)
Autumn is pumpkin harvest season in Sweden and no, it’s not tied to Halloween (although the holiday is slowly catching on in Sweden). For Swedish pumpkins galore, head to the island of Öland off the east coast of mainland Sweden for the Öland Harvest Festival in September.
It claims to be Sweden’s largest and most popular harvest festival with over 900 activities and well over 200,000 visitors every year. The indisputable hero of the festival, however, is none other than the humble pumpkin. There are culinary activities, art exhibitions, cooking competitions and food markets all in celebration of the pumpkin.
In fact, there are so many pumpkins on the island during the festival that a journalist once described Öland as the Kingdom of Pumpkins. Of course, there’s a Giant Pumpkin Competition, too. In 2018, the biggest pumpkin weighed 542 kilos.
6. Pаспуутица (Russian)
Translation: a season of bad roads
Pаспуутица (Rasputitsa) applies to both spring and autumn when unpaved, muddy roads become hazardous for drivers. This phenomenon was especially prominent in the early 20th century when at least 40% of rural villages in the Soviet Union were served by poorly constructed or unconstructed roads.
Rasputitsa, which comes from the prefix раз (undone) and the word путь (way/road) may also be loosely connected to Rasputin, whose name derives from распутье for “crossroads.”
7. La Rentrée (French)
Translation: the return (to school or work after the summer holidays)
La rentrée is like a second New Year if you live in France, and it’s just impossible to avoid it. La rentrée is not just about kids going back to school after nine long summer weeks or about adults returning to work.
Every stratum of society has its own rentrée. Politicians return to Parliament. Cafes, bars, restaurants, shops and boulangeries open up again after a dead August. Even TV presenters return to the small screen and publishing houses announce their new book launches.
La rentrée is a long-awaited return to the normal rhythms of life after the excitement and frenzy of summer.
8. Tartufi (Italian)
Come autumn, the Italian regions of Piedmont and Umbria become a hotbed of truffle hunting activity. There are around 100 types of truffle species in nature, but only 9 of them are edible. The most widely known are the white truffle (tartufo bianco) and the black truffle (tartufo nero). For their excavation, the trifolau (Piedmontese for “diggers”) employ mongrel dogs.
For a culinary experience to remember, visit one of the many truffle fairs throughout October and November. Here you can enjoy some exquisite local dishes like the carne cruda all’Albese topped with white Alba truffles. The International Fair of Tartufo Bianco d’Alba is a noteworthy favorite for truffle lovers.
9. Vindima (Portuguese)
Translation: grape harvest/vintage
September is the month of the vindima in the Douro valley, one of the oldest winemaking regions in the world, and Portuguese winemakers wait for this occasion all year. Despite the hard work — grapes are hand-picked, carried in big boxes, separated from the stems and stomped by workers — it’s also a time for celebration. The vinícolas (vineyards) finally, after a whole year of waiting, get to collect the fruit of their labor.
Visitors to the region can also take part in harvesting and grape stomping activities, but no visit to the region would be complete without sampling the exquisite local red wine.
10. Złota Polska Jesień (Polish)
Translation: golden Polish autumn
Let’s close this list of fall words with a phrase the Poles use to describe autumn at home. In a country where 30% of its land is covered by forests, Złota polska jesień is a true sight to behold. The trees are dressed in their golden-red hues and the weather is still relatively warm and sunny — great for enjoying long walks in the parks.
To enjoy the Polish autumn in all its splendor, visit the Łazienki Park, the largest park in Warsaw or Ojców, the smallest national park in Poland, just a 20-minute drive north from Krakow.