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Favourite Autumn Facts

It’s that time of year when wonderful open fires, hot chocolate and boots replace the less attractive sunburn, insect repellent and sandals. There’s nothing better that a bracing autumn walk followed by getting cozy in a pub or at home. The Danes hold the wonderful feeling of coziness in such high esteem that they have their own word for it. Hygge can mean hot chocolate by the fire while it’s snowing outside, but it also implies camaraderie and intimacy: it’s a social coziness, a coming together with people we love, against the encroaching cold. While you choose your iFootpath walking routes and snuggle by the fire, here are some of my other favourite autumnal facts to keep you entertained…

What’s in a name?

autumnleafsquareThe word Autumn entered English from the French automne and didn't become common usage until the 1700s. Until 1500, autumn was called Harvest in Britain. In the 1600s, the common term was Fall (a shortening of the phrase, fall of the leaf) which is still the word used for autumn in America. There are plenty of wonderful phrases to describe the season in other languages.

The Finnish word for autumn is ruska, which reminds me of our word rustic with its own lovely association with autumn.  The Swedish word for autumn is höst, the Danish use høst and the German variation on the word is herbst; all of which are derived from the Old Norse word haust, meaning to gather or pluck. One of my other favourites is the Welsh word for autumnal; hydrefol, such a beautiful sound. But perhaps my favourite overall, and the favourite of most poetic souls, are the terms used in Japan. In Japan, risshuu means the first day of autumn. And it’s just one of many words the Japanese have to describe the season, which is a popular motif in haiku poetry. Shuuki is the autumn air, shuushoku is a word to describe the autumn colours and aki no koe refers to autumn's voice, which incorporates all the sounds of the season: the wind rustling dry leaves, rain hitting the ground or chirruping crickets. I love the romantic notion of autumn having a voice, and getting out walking is the best way to hear it.

persephoneWhat’s in the stars?

A study in the Journal of Aging Research found that babies born during the autumn months are more likely to live to 100 than those born during the rest of the year. Autumn babies born between 1880 and 1895 accounted for more than 30% of US centenarians.

In Greek mythology, autumn began when Persephone was abducted by Hades to be the Queen of the Underworld. In distress Persephone's mother, Demeter (the goddess of the harvest), caused all the crops on earth to die until her daughter was allowed to return, marking spring.

What’s behind the colours?

Autumn is the time of year when trees close down their food production systems and reduce the amount of chlorophyll in their leaves. Chlorophyll is the chemical which makes tree leaves green and as it declines other chemicals become more prominent in the leaves. These other chemicals, like Flavonoids, Carotenoids and Anthocyanins, are responsible for the vibrant ambers, reds and yellows in leaves. Some of these chemicals are the same ones that give carrots (beta-carotenes) and egg yolks (luteins) their colours.

What’s in our diet?

autumnvegsquareAutumn is the time when the woodland floors are carpeted with various toadstools and mushrooms of all kinds of shapes and colours. Expert foragers enjoy this bounty of mushrooms as well as seeds and nuts like sweet chestnuts. Some of our favourite fruits and vegetables are in season in autumn, including carrots, butternut squash, beetroot and apples – a veritable rainbow for the plate and packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. In China, the autumn equinox is a moon festival. Chinese families eat moon cakes and celebrate all round foods like watermelons, oranges and green soybeans.

What’s on the screen?

sweet chestnutNo film with autumn in its title has won an Oscar. By comparison, spring, summer and winter have one each. Winners include The Virgin Spring (1960), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) and The Lion in Winter (1968). The closest autumn has come to this accolade is with the film A Man For All Seasons, which won best picture in 1966.

Autumn has much greater success on the small screen. Autumn is the time of year when TV audiences peak, with our favourite shows drawing us into enjoying family time around the screen. Autumn shows like The Great British Bake Off, Strictly Come Dancing, Plant Earth II and Sunday night dramas such as Victoria had some of the highest audience numbers in 2016.

11 October 2017
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