November 11, 2013 | By Baukje Stamm |
November 11 is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours: St. Martin’s Day, also known as the Feast of St. Martin, Martin le Miséricordieux or Martinmas. St. Martin was known as friend of the children and patron of the poor. This holiday originated in France, then spread to Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. It celebrates the end of the agrarian year, the beginning of the harvesting and the time when newly produced wine is ready for drinking. It marks the end of winter preparations, including the butchering of animals.
St. Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier, who was baptized 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.
From the late 4th century to the late Middle Ages, much of Europe, engaged in a period of fasting beginning on the day after St. Martin’s Day. This fast period lasted 40 days. 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 some countries, Martinmas celebrations begin at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month. In others, the festivities commence on St. Martin’s Eve. Bonfires are built, and children carry lanterns in the streets after dark, singing songs for which they are rewarded with candy.
St. Martin’s Feast is much like the American Thanksgiving: a celebration of the earth’s bounty. Because it comes before the penitential season of Advent, it is seen as a mini “carnivale”, with all the feasting and bonfires. In the Netherlands the feast is known as Sint Maarten.