Since the early 19th century the term “Altweibersommer” (summer of the old women) is known.
It should be noted that until about 1800, the year was divided into summer and winter, with spring and autumn also called “Weibersommer”. In the course of time, spring was given the addition “young women’s summer” and consequently, autumn was also called “old women’s summer”.
There are of course regional peculiarities and so one knows for example also the name Ähnlsummer, Mettensommer, Nachsommer, Witwensommer, Michaelssommer, Allerheiligensommer or flying summer.
In our latitudes, however, the term “Altweibersommer” has become generally accepted, which is also shown by the fact that it is not only in the German-speaking area, but also in Hungary and the Slavic countries.
In France, on the other hand, the term “été indien” (derived from the term “Indian Summer” used in the New England states), which became popular in 1975 through a song of the same name by Joe Dassin.
In the Mediterranean countries, however, this period is known as St. Martin’s Summer.
But whatever they are called, all these names denote one and the same phenomenon that has been proven for at least 200 years, namely the annually recurring fair weather period in autumn, which usually begins in mid-September and ends at the beginning of November at the latest.
Its most important characteristic is a stable high pressure area over Central Europe, which is characterized by clear, cool nights and unusually warm, almost windless days.
Another characteristic sign of this season are the fine flying threads that can be observed everywhere.
Because above the warm soils light up winds develop during the day, on which young canopy spiders can be carried through the air to find new territories and a good place for the winter.
After cool nights now fine dew drops settle on the floating threads and spider webs, which sparkle in the bright morning light and remind of long, silver-grey hair.
For a long time, it was assumed that these silver threads reminded people of the hair of old women and therefore the name “Altweibersommer” was adopted.
Actually, however, the origin of this word might lie completely somewhere else.
For the term “weiben” was used in Old High German to refer to the knotting of cobwebs on the one hand, but it was also a synonym for “wabern” or “flutter” on the other.
Today, this meaning of the word is almost completely forgotten, but when viewed in this light, one notices that the “weiber” in Altweibersommer refers less to older ladies than to the activity of spiders.
From which then rather the meaning “late summer of weaving spiders” or “of fluttering cobwebs” would result.
In the simple people, these cobwebs were also held for webs of elves or the Norns.
In Christian countries it was also believed that the threads were yarn from the mantle of the Holy Virgin Mary, which she wore on her Ascension.
For this reason, the spinning threads were also known as Mary’s hair, Mary’s thread, autumn yarn, summer silk or “Our Lady’s Spun” and the Indian summer was consequently called “Mary’s Summer” or “Summer of Threads”.
Of course, there are other names for this “season” and various theories about its origin, but these seem to me to be the most interesting ones.
In any case, one should not be afraid to get dirty with these threads during a walk, because according to an old tradition it is said to bring luck if they stick to a person’s clothes.
Only young women should be careful. Because if flying spinning threads get caught in their hair, it promises a soon wedding.