Bundesarchiv Bild 194-0273-38, Sankt Martinszug

St. Martin's Day procession with children carrying paper lanterns in West Germany in 1949

St. Martin's Day (or Martinstag or Martinmas) is November 11, the feast day of Martin of Tours, who started out as a Roman soldier. He was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me." [1]


From the late 4th century CE to the late Middle Ages, much of Western Europe, including Great Britain, engaged in a period of fasting beginning on the day after St. Martin's Day, November 11. This fast period lasted 40 days, and was, therefore, called "Quadragesima Sancti Martini", which means in Latin "the forty days of St. Martin." At St. Martin's eve, people ate and drank very heartily for a last time before they started to fast. This period of fasting was later shortened and called "Advent" by the Church.

In Ireland, on the Eve of St.Martins day, it is tradition to sacrifice a cockeral by bleeding it. When the blood was collected, it was sprinkled on four corners of the house. Also in Ireland, no wheel of any kind was to turn on St. Martins day because Martin was thrown into a mill stream and killed by the wheel and because of that, it was not right to turn any kind of wheel on that day.

In some parts of the Netherlands and Belgium, children make their own lantern and go door to door with the lantern, and sing St. Martin songs, in exchange for sweets.

Many churches in Europe are named after Saint Martinus, also known as Saint Martin of Tours. St. Martin is the patron saint of Szombathely in Hungary, with a church dedicated to him, and also the patron saint of Quillota in Chile and Buenos Aires.

In Latin America, he has a strong popular following and is frequently referred to as San Martín Caballero, in reference to his common depiction on horseback.

Though no mention of St. Martin's connection with viticulture is made by Gregory of Tours or other early hagiographers, he is now credited with a prominent role in spreading wine-making throughout the Touraine region and facilitating the planting of many vines. The Greek myth that Aristaeus first discovered the concept of pruning the vines after watching a goat eat some of the foliage has been appropriated to Martin.[2] Martin is also credited with introducing the Chenin Blanc grape varietal, from which most of the white wine of western Touraine and Anjou is made.

Martin Luther was purportedly named after St. Martin, as he was baptized on November 11 (St. Martin's Day), 1483.

Martinmas is a male holiday, since it honors a male saint. When men went singing and dancing door-to-door, one of the men was disguised as a woman.

Historical meaning of Martinmas

Originating in France, the tradition of celebrating Martinmas spread to Germany in the 16th century and later to Scandinavia and the Baltics. In Estonia, Martinmas signifies the merging of Western European customs with the local Balto-Finnic pagan traditions, it also contains elements of earlier worship of the dead as well as certain year-end celebration that predates Christianity.

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. 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 the ancestors were worshiped that lasted from November 1 to Martinmas.

Like Michaelmas (St. Michael's Day), celebrated on September 29, Martinmas is also known as the celebration that marks the end of field work and the beginning of the harvesting period. Following these holidays, women traditionally moved their work indoors for the winter, while men would proceed to work in the forests.

Celebrations around the world

Austria, Belgium, Germany and Netherlands


Children going door to door with paper lanterns on St. Martin's Day in the Netherlands

The day is celebrated in the evening of November 11 some parts of the Netherlands, in a small part of Belgium (mainly in the east of Flanders and around Ypres), and most areas of Germany and Austria. 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 (though not in the Netherlands).

In recent years, the lantern processions have become widespread even in Protestant areas of Germany (Martinisingen on 10 November) and the Netherlands, despite the fact that most Protestant churches do not recognize saints as distinct from the laity.

Bundesarchiv Bild 194-0273-45, Sankt Martinszug

St. Martin character in a procession in West Germany

Also, in the east part of the Belgian province of West-Flanders, especially around Ypres, children receive presents from either their friends or family as supposedly coming from St. Martin on November 11. In other areas it is customary that children receive gifts later in the year from either their friends or family as supposedly coming from Saint Nicholas on December 5 (called Sinterklaas in the Netherlands) or Santa Claus on December 25.

In some areas, there is a traditional goose meal, although in West Flanders there is no specific meal; it is more a day for children, with toys brought on the night of 10 to 11 November. According to legend, Martin was reluctant to become bishop, which is why he hid in a stable filled with geese. The noise made by the geese betrayed his location to the people who were looking for him.

Misc: The coat of arms of the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands symbolizes the cloak of St. Martin cut in half. [1]

Croatia, Slovenia

In Slovenia and Croatia, St. Martin's Day 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 almost always home-made or store bought mlinci.

Czech Republic

A Czech proverb connected with the feast of St.Martin Martin přijíždí na bílém koni (trans. Martin is riding in on a white horse) signifies that the first half of November in the Czech Republic is the time when it often starts to snow. There used to be (and still is in some part of the country) a festival (posvícení) with a roast goose as a feast dish.[3]


in Denmark, Mortensaften, meaning the night 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 cost.


For Centuries Mardipäev (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.


St. Martin's Day (Jum San Martin in Maltese) is celebrated in Malta on the Sunday nearest to November 11. 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 includes St. Martin's Bread (Ħobża ta' San Martin), walnuts (ġewż), hazel-nuts (qastan), almonds (lewż), chestnuts (ġellewż), figs (tin), oranges (larinġ), tangerines (mandolin), apples (tuffieħ), pomegranates (rummien) amongst other things. 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 (Malta), including a procession led by the statue of St. 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 St Martin in remembrance of the day.

Several places in Malta are named after this saint, including San Martin on the outskirts of St. Paul's Bay, and Ġebel San Martin outside of Żejtun.


Rogale świętomarcińskie RB1

Saint Martin Croissants

St. Martin's Day is celebrated in Greater Poland region of Poland - mainly in its capital city Poznań. On this day, the people of Poznań buy and eat considerable amounts of croissants, made specially for this occasion from half-French paste with white-poppy and dainties, so-called Martin Croissants or St. Martin Croissants. Poznanians people celebrate with a feast, specially organised by the city. There are different concerts, a St. Martin's parade and a fireworks show.

See : Rogal świętomarciński


In Portugal, St. Martin's Day 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, traditionaly around a bonfire, eating the magusto,chestnuts roasted under the embers of the bonfire, (sometimes people also eat 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, hence the name - and letting it ferment for several days), or the stronger jeropiga (a sweet liquor obtained in a very similar fashion, when some aguardente is 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 go and eat.[4] The people also mask their faces with the dark wood ashes from the bonfire. There is a typical saying in Portugal, related with 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.)
<p> 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 a welcome spell of sunny, warm days that comes after a cold, rainy period, and drives many people (usually teenagers and young adults, but also tourists and some families) to go to the beach.


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", which translates as "Every pig has its St. Martin's day" in English. The phrase is used to indicate that wrongdoers eventually get their comeuppance.


Its celebration has mainly remained a tradition in the Catholic Swiss area of Ajoie in the canton of Jura. The traditional gargantuan feastly Repas de la Saint Martin includes all the parts of the freshly butchered porks, swiped down with Damassine, lasting at least for over 5 hours.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, St Martin's Day is known as Martinmas (or sometimes Martlemass). It is one of the term days in Scotland.

Martlemass beef was beef from cattle slaughtered at Martinmas and salted or otherwise preserved for the winter. The now largely archaic term "Saint Martin's Summer" referred to the fact that in Britain people often believed there was a brief warm spell common around the time of St.Martin's Day, before the Winter months began in earnest. The more common term in modern English is "Indian Summer".

In Northern Ireland the village and surrounding parish of Desertmartin owes its name to Saint Columba (also referred to as Colmcille) who visited there in the sixth century. He erected a church there as a retreat and named it in honour of Saint Martin. Hence the name in Irish Díseart Mhartain or 'Resting place of Martin'.

In the United Kingdom however, November 11th is better known for being Remembrance Day.

See also


  1. Sulpicius, ch 2
  2. For instance, in Hugh Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine 1989, p 97.
  3. Brand's Popular Antiquities, London, 1849
  4. Leite de Vasconcelos, Opúsculos Etnologia — volumes VII, Lisboa, Imprensa Nacional, 1938

External links

da:Mortensdaget:Mardipäevfy:Sint Marten la:Dies Sancti Martininds-nl:Sunte-Marten (feest) nn:Mortensmesse ksh:Märtesdaach ro:Ziua Sfântului Martin sl:Martinovo fi:Martinpäivä