St. Martin's Day
Saint Martin's Day, also called the Funeral of Saint Martin, Martinstag or Martinmas, as well as Old Halloween and Old Hallowmas Eve, is the Funeral day of Saint Martin of Tours (else Martin le Miséricordieux) and is celebrated on 11 November each year. The feast was widely seen as the preferred time for the butchering of "Martinmas beef" from prime, fattened cattle, geese, other livestock and the ending of the toil of autumn wheat seeding (sowing). Hiring fairs were more abundant than usual, where farm laborers could choose, or others had, to seek new posts.
Saint Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier who was baptised as an adult and became a bishop in a French town. The most notable of his saintly acts was when he had cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save him from the cold. That same night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak and saying to the angels, "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is now baptised; he has clothed me." Saint Martin died on 8 November 397, and was buried three days later.
Feast and celebration of Saint Martin
This holiday feast-day originated in France, then spread to the Low Countries, the British Isles, Galicia, Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. Akin to “Christmas”, Martinmas (or Martinmass, Martin-mass) is the day when Martin is honoured in the Mass. Its feast and meat-permitted day celebrates the end of the agrarian year, the main annual harvest. Saint Martin was known as friend of the children and patron of the poor.
In the agricultural calendar formerly used widely in Europe, the day marked natural winter's start, and in the economic calendar, the end of autumn. The feast coincides with the end of the Octave (liturgy) of All Saints and of harvest time. Much brewed beer and wine first becomes ready at this time, which sees the end of winter preparations, including the butchering of animals. (An old English saying, replicated in Galician as to piglets, is "His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog," the word being a euphemism for slaughter). Because of this, the feast is much like the American Thanksgiving: a celebration of the earth's bounty to humans. Because it also comes before a penitential season, it became a minor carnival(e) time for feasting, dancing and bonfires. As at Michaelmas on 29 September, goose is eaten in most places. After one of these holidays, many women resumed work away from the fields for the winter, while male farm labourers would work in animal-driven sowing and then in the forest slaughter/butchering hogs, followed by moving into coppicing and felling trees, hunting, fishing and, most often with their families, tending any winter crops and animals.
In some countries, Martinmas celebrations begin at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month (that is, at 11:11 am on 11 November). In others, the festivities commence on St. Martin's Eve (the evening of 10 November). Bonfires are built and children carry lanterns in the streets after dark, singing songs for which they are rewarded with candy.
Eve of week-day fast period
In the 6th century, church councils began requiring fasting on all days, except Saturdays and Sundays, from Saint Martin's Day to Epiphany (elsewhere, the Feast of the Three Wise Men for the stopping of the star over Bethlehem) on January 6 (56 days). An addition to and an equivalent to the 40 days fasting of Lent, given its weekend breaks, this was called Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Saint Martin's Lent, or literally "the fortieth of"). This is rarely observed now. This period was shortened to begin on the Sunday before December and became the current Advent within a few centuries.
The goose became a symbol of the saint due to a legend that, when trying to avoid being ordained bishop he hid in a pen of geese whose cackling gave him away. Once a key medieval autumn feast, a custom of eating goose on the day spread to Sweden from France. It was primarily observed by the craftsmen and noblemen of the towns. In the peasant community, not everyone could afford this, so many ate duck or hen instead.
Grapes and local wine
Although no mention of a connection between Martin and viticulture is made by Gregory of Tours or other early hagiographers, Martin is widely credited in France with helping to spread wine-making throughout the region of Tours (Touraine) and facilitating vine planting. The old Greek folklore that Aristaeus discovered the advantage of pruning vines after watching a goat foliage has been appropriated to Martin. He is credited with introducing the Chenin blanc grape varietal, from which most of the white wine of western Touraine and Anjou is made.
Celebrations around the world
Martinloben is celebrated as a collective festival. Events include art exhibitions, wine tastings, and live music. Martinigansl (roasted goose) is the traditional dish of the season. In Austria St. Martin's Day is celebrated the same way as in Germany. The nights before and on the night of Nov. 11, children walk in processions carrying lanterns, which they made in school, and sing Martin songs.
The day is celebrated on the evening of 10 November in a small part of Belgium (mainly in the west of Flanders and around Ypres). Children go through the streets with paper lanterns and candles, and sing songs about St. Martin. Sometimes, a man dressed as St. Martin rides on a horse in front of the procession.
In some parts, there is a traditional goose meal – in West Flanders there is no specific meal – in others it is mainly a day for children, with toys ready to give on the day itself. In western West Flanders, especially around Ypres, children receive presents from either their friends or family as supposedly coming from St. Martin on 11 November; in others these come only from Saint Nicholas on December 5 or 6 (called Sinterklaas or Saint-Nicolas in Belgium, and Sinterklaas in the Netherlands) and/or on December 25.
In Wervik, children go from door to door, singing traditional "Séngmarténg" songs, sporting a hollow beetroot with a carved face and a candle inside called "Bolle Séngmarténg"; they gather at an evening bonfire. At the end the beetroots are thrown into the fire, and pancakes are served.
In Croatia, St. Martin's Day (Martinje, Martinovanje) marks the day when the must traditionally turns to wine. The must is usually considered impure and sinful, until it is baptised and turned into wine. The baptism is performed by someone who dresses up as a bishop and blesses the wine; this is usually done by the host. Another person is chosen as the godfather of the wine. The foods traditionally eaten on the day are goose and home-made or store bought mlinci.
Feasts, balls and fairs were regular in Hungary on this day. At such times, great eating and drinking was arranged so that there would be plenty to eat next year as well. Belief that still strongly belongs to this day: "He who does not eat a goose on Martin's day will starve all year round." Martin's Day foods are typically goose dishes, such as goose soup with goose roast with braised red cabbage and potato dumplings. There are beliefs about the weather based on the weather on Martin's day: "On St. Martin's Day, if the goose walks on ice, it will toddle in water at Christmas." So it is believed that if the temperature falls below freezing point on Martin's day, Christmas will not be white.
A Czech proverb connected with the Feast of St. Martin – Martin přijíždí na bílém koni (trans. "Martin is coming on a white horse") – signifies that the first half of November in the Czech Republic is the time when it often starts to snow. St. Martin's Day is the traditional feast day in the run-up to Advent. Restaurants often serve roast goose as well as young wine from the recent harvest known as Svatomartinské víno, which is similar to Beaujolais nouveau as the first wine of the season. Wine shops and restaurants around Prague pour the first of the St. Martin's wines at 11:11 a.m. Many restaurants offer special menus for the day, featuring the traditional roast goose.
In Denmark, Mortensaften, meaning the evening of St. Martin, is celebrated with traditional dinners, while the day itself is rarely recognized. (Morten is the Danish vernacular form of Martin.) The background is the same legend as mentioned above, but nowadays the goose is most often replaced with a duck due to size, taste and/or cost.
In Estonia, Martinmas (Mardipäev) signifies the merging of Western European customs with local Finnic pagan traditions. It also contains elements of earlier worship of the dead as well as a certain year-end celebration that predates Christianity. For centuries Martinmas has been one of the most important and cherished days in the Estonian folk calendar. It remains popular today, especially among young people and the rural population. Martinmas celebrates the end of the agrarian year and the beginning of the winter period.
Among Estonians, Martinmas also marks the end of the period of All Souls, as well as the autumn period in the Estonian popular calendar when the souls of ancestors were worshiped, a period that lasted from 1 November to Martinmas (11 November). On this day children disguise themselves as men and go from door to door, singing songs and telling jokes to receive sweets.
In Southern Estonia, November is called Märtekuu after St. Martin's Day.
St. Martin's Day is celebrated in Maritime Flanders (10 November), Franconian Lorraine and Alsace (11 November in the last two). Children receive gifts, candies and, in Flanders, speculaas. In these regions, this day marks the beginning of the holiday season.
A widespread custom in Germany is bonfires on St. Martin's eve, called Martinsfeuer. In recent years, the processions that accompany those fires have been spread over almost a fortnight before Martinmas (Martinstag). At one time, the Rhine River valley would be lined with fires on the eve of Martinmas. In the Rhineland, Martin's day is celebrated traditionally with a get-together during which a roasted suckling pig is shared with the neighbours.
The nights before and on the eve itself, children walk in processions carrying lanterns, which they made in school, and sing Martin songs. Usually, the walk starts at a church and goes to a public square. A man on horseback dressed like St. Martin accompanies the children. When they reach the square, Martin's bonfire is lit and Martin's pretzels are distributed.
The origin of the procession of lanterns is unclear. To some, it is a substitute for the St. Martin bonfire, which is still lit in a few cities and villages throughout Europe. It formerly symbolized the light that holiness brings to the darkness, just as St. Martin brought hope to the poor through his good deeds. Even though the tradition of the large, crackling fire is gradually being lost, the procession of lanterns is still practiced.
The tradition of the St. Martin's goose or Martinsgans, which is typically served on the evening of St. Martin's feast day following the procession of lanterns, most likely evolved from the well-known legend of St. Martin and the geese. "Martinsgans" is usually served in restaurants, roasted, with red cabbage and dumplings.
In some regions of Germany, the traditional sweet of Martinmas is Martinshörnchen, a pastry shaped in the form of a croissant, which recalls both the hooves of St. Martin's horse and, by being the half of a pretzel, the parting of his mantle. In parts of western Germany these pastries are instead shaped like men (Stutenkerl or Weckmänner).
In German-speaking Europe and the Netherlands, the carnival season traditionally opens on 11 November.
A celebration today is not widely recognised, most Protestant churches and Catholic churches having most of their liturgy coinciding with civic ceremonies across the country on the day directed to Remembrance Day (and close by Remembrance Sunday).
In High Church Anglicanism and in Catholicism, some liturgy for Saint Martin's Day (that is, Martinmas) is kept, equally known as Martinmas or Martlemass, especially, as elsewhere, observed in churches devoted to that saint. It is one of the term days in Scotland, where some schools celebrate St. Martin's day. The ancient Scottish universities' September to December term is Martinmas term (now semester at the University of St Andrews), a different nomenclature than Michaelmas Term in England. Many schools are named after the saint.
Martlemass beef was from cattle slaughtered at Martinmas and salted or otherwise preserved for the winter. The archaic term "St. Martin's Summer" in all but a few villages is a folklore of a brief warm spell common around the date (see Sicily, below). The more prevalent term, that originated in and is shared with the US, is an Indian summer.
In Welsh mythology the day is associated with the Cŵn Annwn, the spectral hounds who escort souls to the otherworld (Annwn). St Martin's Day was one of the few nights the hounds would engage in a Wild Hunt, stalking the land for criminals and villains. The supernatural character of the day in Welsh culture is evident in the number omens associated with it. Marie Trevelyan recorded that if the hooting of an owl was heard on St Martin's Day it was seen as a bad omen for that district. If a meteor was seen, then there would be trouble for the whole nation.
In some parts of Ireland, on the eve of St. Martin's Day (Lá Fhéile Mártain in Irish), it was tradition to sacrifice a cockerel by bleeding it. The blood was collected and sprinkled on the four corners of the house. Also in Ireland, no wheel of any kind was to turn on St. Martin's Day, because Martin was said by some people to have been thrown into a mill stream and killed by the wheel and so it was not right to turn any kind of wheel on that day. A local legend in Co. Wexford says that putting to sea is to be avoided as St. Martin rides a white horse across Wexford Bay bringing death by drowning to any who see him.
In Northern Ireland the village and parish of Desertmartin owes its name to Saint Columba (Colmcille) who visited there in the sixth century. He erected a church there as a retreat and named it in honour of (devoted it to) Saint Martin. Hence the name in Irish Díseart Mhartain or 'Retreat of Martin'.
In Sicily, November is the winemaking season. On the day Sicilians eat anise, hard biscuits dipped into Moscato, Malvasia or Passito. l'Estate di San Martino (Saint Martin's Summer) is the traditional reference to a period of unseasonably warm weather in early to mid November, possibly shared with the Normans (who founded the Kingdom of Sicily) as common in at least late English folklore. The day is celebrated in a special way in a village near Messina and at a monastery dedicated to Saint Martin overlooking Palermo beyond Monreale. Other places in Sicily mark the day by eating fava beans.
Mārtiņi (Martin's) is traditionally celebrated by Latvians on 10 November, marking the end of the preparations for winter, such as salting meat and fish, storing the harvest and making preserves. Mārtiņi also marks the beginning of masquerading and sledding, among other winter activities.
St. Martin's Day (Jum San Martin in Maltese) is celebrated in Malta on the Sunday nearest to 11 November. Children are given a bag full of fruits and sweets associated with the feast, known by the Maltese as Il-Borża ta' San Martin, "St. Martin's bag". This bag may include walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, chestnuts, dried or processed figs, seasonal fruit (like oranges, tangerines, apples and pomegranates) and "Saint Martin's bread roll" (Maltese: Ħobża ta' San Martin). In old days, nuts were used by the children in their games.
There is a traditional rhyme associated with this custom:
Ġewż, Lewż, Qastan, Tin
Kemm inħobbu lil San Martin.
(Walnuts, Almonds, Chestnuts, Figs
I love Saint Martin so much.)
A feast is celebrated in the village of Baħrija on the outskirts of Rabat, including a procession led by the statue of Saint Martin. There is also a fair, and a show for local animals. San Anton School, a private school on the island, organises a walk to and from a cave especially associated with Martin in remembrance of the day.
The day is celebrated on the evening of 11 November (the day Saint Martin was buried) in the Netherlands, where he is known as Sint-Maarten. As soon it gets dark, children from the ages of 5 to 12 (primary school age) go door to door (mostly under parental supervision) with hand-crafted lanterns made of hollowed-out sugar beet or, more recently, paper, singing songs such as "Sinte(re) Sinte(re) Maarten", to receive candy or fruit in return. In the past, poor people would visit farms on the 11 November to get food for the winter. In the 1600s, the city of Amsterdam held boat races on the lake IJ. 400 to 500 light craft, both rowing boats and sailboats, took part with a vast crowd on the banks. St. Martin is the patron saint of the city of Utrecht. St. Martin’s Day is celebrated there with a big lantern parade.
In Poland, 11 November is National Independence Day. St. Martin's Day (Dzień Świętego Marcina) is celebrated mainly in the city of Poznań where its citizens buy and eat considerable amounts of croissants filled with almond paste with white poppy seeds, the Rogal świętomarciński or St. Martin's Croissants. Legend has it that this centuries-old tradition commemorates a Poznań baker's dream which had the saint entering the city on a white horse that lost its golden horseshoe. The very next morning, the baker whipped up horseshoe-shaped croissants filled with almonds, white poppy seeds and nuts, and gave them to the poor. In recent years, competition amongst local patisseries has become fierce. The product is registered under the European Union Protected Designation of Origin and only a limited number of bakers holds an official certificate. Poznanians celebrate the festival with events organized by the city. A range of concerts, parade and a fireworks show take place on Saint Martin's Street, the main drag of the city center. Goose meat dishes are also eaten during the holiday.
In Portugal, St. Martin's Day (Dia de São Martinho) is commonly associated with the celebration of the maturation of the year's wine, being traditionally the first day when the new wine can be tasted. It is celebrated, traditionally around a bonfire, eating the magusto, chestnuts roasted under the embers of the bonfire (sometimes dry figs and walnuts), and drinking a local light alcoholic beverage called água-pé (literally "foot water", made by adding water to the pomace left after the juice is pressed out of the grapes for wine – traditionally by stomping on them in vats with bare feet, and letting it ferment for several days), or the stronger jeropiga (a sweet liquor obtained in a very similar fashion, with aguardente added to the water). Água-pé, though no longer available for sale in supermarkets and similar outlets (it is officially banned for sale in Portugal), is still generally available in small local shops from domestic production.
Leite de Vasconcelos regarded the magusto as the vestige of an ancient sacrifice to honor the dead and stated that it was tradition in Barqueiros to prepare, at midnight, a table with chestnuts for the deceased family members to eat. The people also mask their faces with the dark wood ashes from the bonfire. A typical Portuguese saying related to Saint Martin's Day:
É dia de São Martinho;
comem-se castanhas, prova-se o vinho.
(It is St. Martin's Day,
we'll eat chestnuts, we'll taste the wine.)
This period is also quite popular because of the usual good weather period that occurs in Portugal in this time of year, called Verão de São Martinho (St. Martin's Summer). It is frequently tied to the legend since Portuguese versions of St. Martin's legend usually replace the snowstorm with rain (because snow is not frequent in most parts of Portugal, while rain is common at that time of the year) and have Jesus bringing the end of it, thus making the "summer" a gift from God.
Sint Maarten / Saint Martin
In Saint Martin, 11 November is commemorated as the date when explorer Christopher Columbus, on his second journey into Antillean waters, landed on the island in 1493, naming it “Saint Martin.” It is a public holiday on both the southern Dutch part of the island, Sint Maarten, and the northern French part, the Collectivity of Saint Martin, to commemorate this event.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2019)
In Slovakia, the feast day is a celebration for those named Martin/Martina; small presents or money are common gifts. Folklore says it snows on the day then St. Martin came on a white horse; it will snow on Christmas day, mutatis mutandis as to a dark horse, if not.
The biggest event in Slovenia is the St. Martin's Day celebration in Maribor which marks the symbolic winding up of all the wine growers’ endeavours. There is the ceremonial "christening" of the new wine, and the arrival of the Wine Queen. The square Trg Leona Štuklja is filled with musicians and stalls offering autumn produce and delicacies.
In Spain, St. Martin's Day is the traditional day for slaughtering fattened pigs for the winter. This tradition has given way to the popular saying "A cada cerdo le llega su San Martín" from Galician "A cada porquiño chégalle o seu San Martiño" , which translates as "Every pig gets its St Martin." The phrase is used to indicate that wrongdoers eventually get their comeuppance. Saint Martin is widely celebrated in Galicia.
St. Martin's Day (Mårtensafton) was an important medieval autumn feast, and the custom of eating goose spread to Sweden from France. In early November, geese are ready for slaughter, and on St. Martin's Eve (Mårtensafton), 10 November, it is time for the traditional dinner of roast goose. The custom is particularly popular in Scania in southern Sweden, where goose farming has long been practised, but it has gradually spread northwards. A proper goose dinner also includes svartsoppa (a heavily spiced soup made from geese blood) and apple charlotte.
Its celebration has remained a tradition mainly in the Swiss Catholic region of the Ajoie in the canton of Jura. The traditional gargantuan feast, the Repas du Saint Martin, includes all the parts of freshly butchered pigs, accompanied by shots of Damassine, and lasting for at least 5 hours.
In the United States, St. Martin's Day celebrations are uncommon, and when they do happen, reflect the ancestral cultural heritage of a local community.
Many German restaurants feature a traditional menu with goose and gluhwein (a mulled red wine). St. Paul, Minnesota celebrates with a traditional lantern procession around Rice Park. The evening includes German treats and traditions that highlight the season of giving. In Dayton, Ohio the Dayton Liederkranz-Turner organization hosts a St. Martin's Family Celebration on the weekend before with an evening lantern parade to the singing of St. Martin's carols, followed by a bonfire. Phoenix, Arizona, carries out an annual traditional German lantern procession at the MacDonald's Ranch in Scottsdale.
Freeing of the Prussian serfs and context
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Media related to St. Martin's Day at Wikimedia Commons