St. Martin’s Day, also known as the Feast of St. Martin, Martinstag or Martinmas, is the Feast of St Martin of Tours celebrated each year on November 11. This is the time when autumn wheat seeding was completed and the annual slaughter of fattened cattle produced “Martinmas beef”. St. Martin of Tours started out as a Roman soldier, then he was baptized as an adult and became a monk.
This holiday originated in France, then spread to England, Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. It celebrates the end of the agrarian year and the beginning of harvesting. Martinmas actually has two meanings: in the agricultural calendar it marks the beginning of the natural winter, but in the economic calendar it is seen as the end of autumn. The feast coincides with harvest-time, the time when newly produced wine is ready for drinking and the end of winter preparations, including the butchering of animals. On this day bonfires are built and children carry lanterns in the streets after dark, singing songs for which they are rewarded with candy.
Martinmas is just one of three festivals celebrated by winemakers. Other two are St. Urban’s Day, on 25 May, when the vine is in bloom and the flowers reveal to winemakers the success of the vintage, and St. John the Apostle’s Day on 27 December, when the best wine is blessed.
The interesting fact is that one legend states that Bishop Martin was a saint who was able to turn water into wine. He tried to avoid being appointed to that office by hiding among a flock of geese. Hence people eat the traditional Martinmas goose and other poultry on that day.
On Martinmas people predicted the harvest and weather: “If a Martinmas goose slithers on ice, at Christmas it usually squelches in mud.”
Martinmas is one of the main folk holidays in wine-producing countries. Autumn colours signal that it is time to open up the wine cellars and taste the new vintage.
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