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The expression often rendered in English as
Indian summer was probably adopted by Hungarian from German around the 19th
century. Back then the whole year was divided into two halves and spring was
called ‘Young summer’ (Junger Weibersommer) as opposed to autumn ‘Old
summer’ (Alter Weibersommer).
The first part of the Hungarian expression, Vén, which also means 'old', corresponds to this, but where did asszony, 'lady' come from?
The truth is
simple. In this time of year, it was quite common for a light
breeze to carry off tiny spiders with their webs.
On early September mornings, the temperature was usually cooler and condensation nicely manifested itself in the form of dew on spider webs flying through the open air, which reminded people of the hair of old ladies. In a nutshell, that’s the story. It was perhaps this natural phenomenon which gave the season its name.
However, it has
an intriguing connection with the Slavic term describing the same thing, which
is grandmother’s summer, Babje leto. In the Slavic belief system, Baba was the
great goddess, the controller of cold among other things.
Another theory says that it may have been the case that this unusually good weather at the beginning of autumn originated in the Slavic tradition and was seen as the Baba goddess’ gift to mankind. Then the tradition spread across the region, including countries with Slavic cultural influence such as Hungary, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lithuania and Finland.
Who knows what happened back then?! It’s hard to find out the truth. Whatever it was, let’s all enjoy these last weeks of Vénasszonyok nyara…