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Martinmas, or, St Martin's Day, November 11

Food and Stories

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Who is Martin?

From the book Festivals, Family and Food:

From France comes the legend of St. Martin, who as a young man road under an archway in the city of Amiens and discovered a poor beggar huddled there. The man was nearly naked, shivering with cold, and had received no alms to assist him. On seeing him, the young Martin took his own cape from his shoulders, tore the garment in half and covered the poor man to warm him. The following night Martin had a dream in which he saw Christ wearing this same piece of his cape. The experience confirmed in him his devotion to all mankind regardless of their station in life, as expressed so beautifully in the Gaelic Rune of Hospitality:

"I saw a stranger yesterday.
I put food in the eating place -
Drink in the drinking place -
And in the blessed name of the Triune,
He blessed myself and my house,
My cattle and my dear ones,
And the lark said in her song:
Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger's guise.

Martinmas in the Western hemisphere comes at the end of harvest time, when the waning of the sun's power has become marked, and often during the last warm spell of the declining season, known in America as "Indian summer." Harvest-festival feasts are often partaken of. Because of the sharing of the cape, gifts of coats and other warm clothing to those in need are often scheduled for this day. The decline of the sun's power is marked with a festival of Lanterns (a Lantern walk), with lanterns carried throughout the dark homes and streets while singing songs requesting protection from the Lantern during the upcoming darker days. Cookies in the shape of horseshoes or horses (Martin was on horseback when he shared his cape with the beggar) are often eaten.


Eating goose on Martinmas resulted from a legend that St Martin hid in a goose pen to avoid being ordained bishop. He is also credited with improvements to viticulture, so a bottle of wine with the goose is appropriate.

St Martin horseshoe cookies are buttery horseshoe-shaped cookies. Recipe at Catholic Culture.


Activities vary from region to region. The holiday is positioned between fall and winter and lends itself to a variety of celebrations. Processions of children bearing lanterns, going house to house singing and collecting candy are common in some countries in Europe.
©2012 by Maura Enright
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