AskDefine | Define Martinmas

Dictionary Definition

Martinmas n : the feast of Saint Martin; a quarter day in Scotland [syn: St Martin's Day, 11 November]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. St Martin's day, 11th November. A Scottish quarter day.

Extensive Definition

St. Martin's Day (or Martinstag) 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." (Sulpicius, ch 2).

Flanders, Netherlands, Germany and Austria

The day is celebrated in the evening of November 11 in parts of Flanders and some parts of the Netherlands and most areas of Germany and Austria. Children go to houses with paper lanterns and candles, and sing songs about St. Martin in return for treats. Often, a man dressed as St. Martin rides on a horse in front of the procession.
In recent years, the lantern processions have become widespread even in Protestant areas of Germany and the Netherlands, despite the fact that most Protestant churches do not recognize saints as distinct from the laity.
Also, in the east part of the Belgian province of West-Flanders, especially around Ypres, children receive presents from St. Martin on November 11. In other areas it is customary that children receive gifts later in the year from either Saint Nicholas on December 6 (called Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, which takes place on the evening of the 5th of December) 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.

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 was 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 it name to Saint Columba (also referred to as Colmcille) who lived in the sixth century. He erected a church there as a retreat and named it in honour of Saint Martin. Hence the name in Gaelic 'Desertmartin' or 'St Martin's place of retreat'


Mardipäev (Martinmas)

For centuries, 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. It also often marks the end of the period of all souls.

Historical meaning of Mardipäev

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 predate 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 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.


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 fasting time was later called "Advent" by the Church. On St. Martin's Day, children in Flanders, the southern and north-western parts of the Netherlands, the Catholic areas of Germany and Austria participate in paper lantern processions. Often, a man dressed as St. Martin rides on a horse in front of the procession. The children sing songs about St. Martin and about their lanterns. The food traditionally eaten on the day is goose. 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.
In Malta, children are sometimes given a bag full of nuts, hazelnuts, oranges and tangerines. In old days, nuts were then used by the children in their games. The parish of Baħrija is dedicated to Saint Martin and on his feast a fair with agricultural produce and animals is organized.
Also, in the east part of the Belgian province of East-Flanders and the west part of West Flanders, children receive presents from St. Martin on November 11, instead of from Saint Nicholas on December 6 or Santa Claus on December 25.
In recent years, the lantern processions have become widespread, even in Protestant areas of Germany and the Netherlands, despite the fact that most Protestant churches do not recognize Saints as a distinct class of believers from the laity.
Many churches in Europe are named after Saint Martinus, also known as Saint Martin of Tours. St. Martin is the patron saint of Szombathely, with a church dedicated to him, and also the patron saint of 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 facilitated 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 applied to Martin. He 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.
Estonia's Martinmas customs are connected foremost with those of Halloween, which is widely celebrated in other European countries. St. Martin himself was considered the patron of beggars and this has contributed to the Western European custom of begging for charitable gifts on this day. In Estonia, children often go from house to house on Martinmas, singing their Martinmassongs and wishing households good luck for crops, cattle and for the household in general.
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.
The most cherished time for going door-to-door is St. Martin's Eve, when traditionally the group leader was a male, called the Martin Elder or Elder Saint. Masks of animals, such as bears, goats and rams have been common in both Estonia and the rest of Europe on this night.
In the Estonian folklore archives, some 1,500 variations of Martin and Catharine songs have been collected, which indicates the extraordinary significance of this type of ritual song and its survival throughout time. At the same time, the begging tradition has grown in popularity and has been adopted by ethnic minorities living in Estonia, like the coastal Swedes and Russians who lived at the eastern border on the shores of Lake Peipsi.
The customary culmination of the holiday is the Martinmas supper, which involves the eating of many rich foods, especially meat products. In Western Europe people ate goose, which has been depicted as the bird of St. Martin in sacral pictures since 1171. However, the tradition of eating goose on this holiday was mainly enjoyed by the wealthy in Estonia. Most Estonians instead ate other types of birds, such as chicken. Some also ate pork and lamb for St. Martin's Day. It was also common to eat grain, flour or blood sausage on St. Martin's Eve in Estonia.
St. Martin's Party, the entertainment portion of St. Martin's Night, has traditionally been the culmination of the activities. The event is elaborate, filled with traditional folk dances, musical performances and games. At the same time, the commonly gathered St. Martin's harvest is shared and used. In some districts of the country, such as in Läänemaa, the St. Martin's Party also includes the theatrical St. Martin's Wedding, an imitation wedding with a couple costumed as bride and groom.
Martinmas has retained its historical significance and cultural traditions, and therefore, still remains popular today, especially amongst Estonia's young and rural populations.


St. Martin's Day (Jum San Martin) in Malta is celebrated on the nearest Sunday to the November 11. On this day, children are given a bag full of fruits and sweets associated with this feast, known by the Maltese as Il-Borża ta' San Martin. This bag consists of St. Martin's Bread, walnuts, hazel-nuts, almonds, chestnuts, figs, oranges, tangerines, apples, pomegranates and some other sweets. There is also a Nursery Rhyme associated with the St. Martin's Bag:
At village of Baħrija on the outskirts of Rabat (Malta), a feast is organized and a procession is had with the statue of St. Martin leading. There is also a fair for the local animals.
Several places in Malta are named after this feast, such as San Martin on the outskirts of St. Paul's Bay, and Ġebel San Martin outside of Żejtun.

Slovenia, Croatia

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.


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 celebrated eating roast chestnuts, and drinking a local light alcoholic beverage, água-pé (a watered-down wine) or the stronger jeropiga (much more alcoholic sweet wine). Água-pé has been forbidden for sale for some years.

Czech proverb

A Czech proverb connected with the feast of St.Martin Martin přijíždí na bílém koni (trans. Martin is coming 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.


Martinmas in Afrikaans: Sint-Maartenfees
Martinmas in Danish: Mortensdag
Martinmas in German: Martinstag
Martinmas in Spanish: Fiesta de San Martín (Países Bajos)
Martinmas in Western Frisian: Sint Marten
Martinmas in Latin: Dies Sancti Martini
Martinmas in Dutch: Sint-Maarten (feest)
Martinmas in Dutch Low Saxon: Sunte-Marten (feest)
Martinmas in Romanian: Ziua Sf. Martin
Martinmas in Slovenian: Martinovo
Martinmas in Swedish: Mårtensgås
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1