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Saint Martin and Traditions

photo:  (czechtourism)

A golden roasted goose and young St. Martin’s wine – neither can be missing at festivals held to celebrate St. Martin’s Day, i.e. 11 November, when, according to this country's weather lore, this saint is supposed to bring the first snowflakes to us.

Saint Martin was born in 316 AD as Martin of Tours. His father was a pagan Roman senior officer in the Roman province of Upper Pannonia, present-day Hungary, and forced Martin to become a soldier as early as the age of fifteen. Legend has it that on a cold, dark night Martin encountered a half-naked beggar who asked him for alms. However, Martin had no money on him and, as he wanted to protect the beggar against the cold, he cleaved his coat into two halves and gave one to the beggar. The following night, Christ appeared in front of him dressed in one half of the coat. It is likely that this apparition caused Martin to be christened at Easter 339 and to decide to devote his life to God. However, he could not leave the army until another 15 years later when he reached the rank of officer. He was named Bishop of Tours in 372, but continued to lead the life of a monk in a hut by the Loire River, where the Marmoutier abbey was founded later. Saint Martin died at the age of 81 in Candes near Tours, in 397. He is the patron saint of soldiers, horses, riders, geese and wine makers; most often he is depicted on horseback with his half coat and the beggar.

Saint Martin’s Day was one of the most popular days of the year since way back in history. This day was associated not only with the coming of the first snow, but also with annual festivals and all that belongs to them. On this day the farm labourers’ service usually ended, the labourers received their pay and started to search for service for the following year. In many places the annual festivals were accompanied by cattle and annual fairs. In wine producing areas this day was a celebration of new wine.

It is impossible to separate this feast from a well-fed and roasted St. Martin's goose, usually served with bread or potato dumplings and red cabbage. By the way, the goose is associated with two legends. One says that the goose is eaten because geese disturbed Saint Martin’s sermons and that is why they are now punished on the pan. The other one holds that Martin was so modest that he concealed himself in a goose house to avoid his appointment as a bishop, but the cackling of the geese gave him away. The Saint Martin’s Day table will not be complete without traditional rolls filled with poppy seeds or plum jam and of course the above-mentioned red or white young wine, which is an excellent accompaniment to the Czech cuisine.
Author: Petra Hubálková
Added: 18.10.2010

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