The first leaves have fallen, the days are getting shorter and autumn is knocking at the door. Not ready for the chill in the air? Here are 10 fascinating 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 the November holiday, Día de los Muertos, is right up there in our list of favorites. When it comes to this Mexican celebration of life and death, there’s nothing more iconic than the colorful calaveras, or sugar skulls. These offerings to the dead are typically made from alfeñique (a mixture of sugar, hot water and lemon) or clay, and are heavily decorated with flowers, beads, feathers, icing and more.
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 United Kingdom is a country blessed with nearly half a million horse chestnut trees. As chestnuts begin to fall around late September, British kids all over the country collect shoelaces, harvest some conkers (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 20 cm piece of string or shoelace through it. Tie a knot at both ends to secure your chestnut and take turns trying to hit each other’s conker until one of them breaks.
If you take the game seriously, however, you’ll need to know how to cheat. Bake your conker briefly in the oven, soak it in vinegar or paint it with nail polish, 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, lovely German word. After all, Germans enjoy playing with their compound words. Herbstlaubtrittvergnügen is a made-up noun that conjures up pleasant images of romantic walks through the park, kicking at piles of crisp, golden leaves, hand-in-hand with your loved one.
This term comes from the words Herbst (“autumn”), Laub (“leaves”), Tritt (“kick”) and Vergnügen (“pleasure”). Combined, they create a somewhat absurd, yet quite on-the-nose description of this favorite fall pastime!
4. O’ Zapft Is (German)
Translation: it is tapped
Of course, we can’t talk about autumn without mentioning Oktoberfest. Despite its name, this Southern German folk festival actually starts in September. Historically, the starting date was rescheduled 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 beer keg with his wooden hammer in the Schottenhamel tent. (In 1950, it took Mayor Thomas Wimmer 19 blows to crack through the first keg!)
After setting off twelve firecrackers, the festivities officially commence with shouts of O’ Zapft is! In the Bavarian dialect, this literally means “it has been tapped” (in reference to the beer keg), but it more loosely translates to “Let the party begin!”
5. Pumpa (Swedish)
Fall is pumpkin harvest season in Sweden and no, not because of Halloween (although the holiday is slowly catching on there). For the ultimate pumpkin bounty, head to the island of Öland off the east coast of mainland Sweden for the Öland Harvest Festival.
This September celebration claims to be Sweden’s largest and most popular harvest festival with over 900 activities and well over 200,000 visitors each year. The indisputable hero of the festival, however, is none other than the humble pumpkin. Art exhibitions, cooking competitions and food markets all celebrate the beauty of this plump, orange gourd.
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) is a fall word that can actually apply to spring and autumn. Both seasons bring with them unpaved and muddy roads that are hazardous for drivers. This phenomenon was especially prominent in the early 20th century when at least 40 percent of rural villages in the Soviet Union were served by poorly constructed (or entirely unconstructed) roads.
Rasputitsa comes from the prefix раз (undone) and the word путь (way/road). It may also be loosely connected to the infamous Rasputin, whose name derives from the word for “crossroads,” распутье.
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 simply impossible to avoid it. La rentrée is not just about kids going back to school after summer break or about adults returning to work after a long vacation.
Every stratum of society has its own rentrée. Politicians return to Parliament. Cafes, bars, restaurants, shops and boulangeries open up again after a dead season in August. Even TV presenters return to the screen, and publishing houses announce 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, you’ll often hear this fall word on the lips of many Italians, as the Piedmont and Umbria regions become hotbeds for truffle hunting activity. There are around 100 types of truffle species in nature, but only 9 of them are edible. The most widely known kinds are the white truffle (tartufo bianco) and the black truffle (tartufo nero). To excavate these tasty fungi, the trifolau (Piedmontese for “diggers”) employ mongrel dogs.
For a culinary experience to remember, visit one of the many Italian truffle fairs throughout October and November. The International Fair of Tartufo Bianco d’Alba is a noteworthy favorite. Here you can enjoy some exquisite local dishes, like carne cruda all’Albese, which is topped with white Alba truffles.
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. Portuguese winemakers wait for this occasion the entire year. Despite the hard work — grapes are hand-picked, carried in big boxes, separated from the stems and stomped on by workers — it’s also a time for celebration. Finally, after a whole year of anticipation, the vinícolas (vineyards) get to collect the fruits of their labor.
Visitors to the region can also take part in the harvesting and grape stomping activities, and 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 truly a sight to behold. The trees are dressed in golden-red hues and the weather is still relatively warm and sunny — perfect for enjoying long walks in the great outdoors.
To enjoy the Polish autumn in all its splendor, try visiting Łazienki Park, which is the largest park in Warsaw. 20 minutes north of Krakow you’ll also find lovely views at Ojców, the smallest national park in Poland.