The first three days I spent in Moscow were cold, windy and cloudy. It seemed autumn was already here. Then, on September 13th at 10am it stopped raining and the sun suddenly came out. The teacher in class told us бабье лето had just started. А что такое бабье лето (what does бабье лето mean)? It literally means “old women’s summer” and for Russians and other peoples in the Northern Hemisphere it marks the start of a period of unseasonably sunny and warm weather. But it won’t last for long, in fact it occurs every year at the beginning of autumn and lasts just for one or two weeks. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, for example, it starts around September 14th, usually after a few days of cold and cloudy weather, and ends around September 24th. So hurry up, it’s the right time to enjoy the sun, visit parks and walk around the city!
The origin of the name
There are several theories about the origin of this phrase. What is sure is that the term has national roots and that it is linked to “baba”(баба), a typical Russian word. Баба is the way Russians called married peasant women, or, in general, women living in the countryside. The warm weather that comes at the beginning of autumn also marks the end of summer that in the past was the hardest period of the year for women, since they had to work in fields all summer. For this reason these days were probably dedicated to бабы, who could finally take a rest after the hot season and then start working at home. In fact, in the great encyclopedia of the Soviet Union this period is defined as “the days when the sun in autumn can warm up old women.”
Another theory claims that the name was formed on the basis of the superstition according to which women had power over weather conditions. Apparently, they could turn the clock back and make the heat of summer last till autumn. Moreover, in the past, бабье лето was associated with the name of the constellation that appeared in the sky at this time of the year. This was the constellation of the Pleiades, which in ancient Rus’ was called Баба.
What is бабье лето in the Russian tradition?
In Russia бабье лето was a real celebration, a праздник. In the past, it was considered the time for rural holidays and it was associated with the last period of the year when old women could bask in the sun before the cold Russian winter came. During these few weeks all the work in the field was completed and peasants could dedicate themselves to other duties: cucumbers (the well-known огурцы) were often salted, old conflict were settled and people made peace, while women sang and spun.
Also nature reacts to this sudden change in the weather, preparing itself for the upcoming winter: leaves on the trees become yellow and orange and fill парки with stunning colors.
Tips for outdoor activities in Moscow
If you have the chance to visit Moscow during this period the best thing to do is to postpone any visit to the museums (you will have time for that when winter comes) and enjoy the sunshine doing a boat tour on the Moskva river. Then, walking across the bridge in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, you can have a quick look of the area near the factory Красный Октябрь, follow the river and walk until you get to Парк Горького.There, you will still have the opportunity to lie in the sun, ride a bike or eat an ice-cream as if it was still summer.
How is бабье лето called in other countries?
If you have never been in Russia, you might know this phenomenon with different names, in fact, in every language it is called differently. In English, for example, it is called Indian Summer, a name coming from North America. Probably, the origin of this expression is related to the fact that it was first coined on the east coast of North America, where such phenomenon is common, or to the fact that Native Americans took advantage of the good weather to build up winter food stocks. In Italy, on the other hand, we call it “St. Martin’s Summer” (Estate di San Martino), because this warm weather usually comes in early November.
How is бабье лето called in your country? Does it have a funny name? Leave a comment in our Facebook page.