Image: a street parade with the St. Martin character on horse and people with lanterns in West Germany in 1949.
Beyond the already described symbols and customs related to the goose, the wine, the seasonal work and the children begging, there are many other traditions observed throughout Europe in celebrating the St Martin's Day celebrations also known as Martinstag or Martinmas in Europe.
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. The feast coincides not only with the end of the Octave of All Saints, but with harvest-time, the time when newly produced wine is ready for drinking, and the end of winter preparations, including the butchering of animals.
At Dunquerke in France, the boys go through the streets with long chains of lights crawling on the ground to make noise, and the feast ends when the final song commands the extinguishing of all lights. Again in France there is a custom to light a big bonfire in order "to warm the feet of St. Martin".
In Italy, at Scanno (in Abruzzo region), boys are moving from house to house making much noise and carrying a big pumpkin carved as a lantern, to ask for sweet candies. The procession ends in front of the cavern of St. Martin, where the great fire is lit. The young colour their faces with ashes, then sing and dance commemorating some ancient rural cults.
In Venice, the tradition of St. Martin has remained very strong. Children roam the streets banging objects, such as pots and pans, to make noise and announce their coming. They stop under the windows of the houses and in front of shops, asking for gifts like coins, sweets, chestnuts and singing in return traditional songs, telling tales or rhymes.
In Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, especially in Catholic areas, but today widespread even in Protestant areas, the celebrations begin at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of November 11.
The most evident elements of the feast are the processions, when children go along the streets with paper or candle-lit lanterns (Martinslaternen), and sing songs for which they are rewarded with candies. The most important is the song "To Martin" (Das Martinssingen), a reminiscent of ancient Christian liturgies with the presentation of gifts. At the end of the celebration a great fire (Das Martinsfeuer) is lit. This tradition derives from the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and symbolizes the purifying fire. In this solemn celebration workers receive the salary and the poor some charity, "a few crumbs from the table of nobility”.
Image: Sunte-Marten/Sint-Maarten/St. Martins' Day, Netherlands
Taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunte-Marten.jpg
In the video below St Martin's Day celebrations in the Netherlands in year 1961. Children make lanterns for St Martin and march in a parade with their lanterns down the street, while a jury assesses the lanterns. In the evening children go door to door...
The feast period is also the time for divination: a popular deeply superstitious belief has it that if you look at the people in the church, during the Mass of St. Martin's Day, you can see an aura of light around the heads of those who will be no more living by the next St. Martin's feast.
In many regions, on Martinmas, it is customary to cook and eat a "Martin Goose" or "Martinsgans". Besides, there are various traditional sweets: St. Martin's bread (Weckmann), a sweet bread figures with the eyes made of raisins and a clay pipe; the Martinshörnchen, a cake shaped like a croissant that recalls the shape of the hooves of St. Martin's horse, and by forming the half of a bretzel (or pretzel, a traditional type of German bread made in a unique knot-like shape), symbolizes the division of the Saint's cloak.
In Switzerland, in the canton of Jura, the Repas du Saint-Martin, the St. Martin's festival is famous and grandiose, featuring a great banquet at which all the parts of the recently slaughtered pig are served.
In Slovenia and Croatia, the must, which is usually considered unclean, not pure, is baptized and transformed in this way into wine. This "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.
In the Czech Republic the celebration is traditionally connected with opening of young wine, the first wine produced from autumn harvest, which is also called the St. Martin’s wine just because of the date. The tradition dates back to the period of Emperor Joseph II, who gave permission to begin serving new wine from the autumn harvest just on St. Martin’s Day. The day was symbolic of the end of harvest work, marking the end of the main farming season and the beginning of the winter rest for the farmers and their fields. The trademark "Svatomartinské víno" i.e. St. Martin’s wine, has been registered since 1995, and owned by the Wine Fund of the Czech Republic since 2005. It may be used by any wine producer registered in the Czech Republic only if meeting strict production criteria (the wine varieties and the character of the wine are firmly specified). The young wine is dry, light and fresh, with low alcohol content (usually about 12 %) and with a distinctive fruit-like character.
There is a proverb connected with the Feast of St. Martin: "Martin přijíždí na bílém koni" ("Martin is riding in on a white horse"), which signifies that in this period ot usually starts to snow in the country. The roast goose is a traditional main dish of the feast.
In Poland St. Martin's Day is celebrated mainly in Poznan, where "St. Martin", dressed as a Roman soldier, enters the city riding a white horse, followed by craftsmen, jugglers, clowns and stilt walkers, and proceeds to the square in front of Zamek Cultural Centre (the Imperial Castle), where he is handed the keys to the city by the mayor.
There are different concerts and a final fireworks show, following the solemn celebration with high Mass at St. Martin's Church. Inside Zamek exhibitions, concerts and performances take place, while outside there’s a street market with knights reenacting medieval jousting.
The people of Poznan eat the traditional "Rogale", known also as St. Martin Croissants, made of half-French paste filled with white-poppy seeds, crushed almonds or walnuts and dainties. According to the legend, this centuries-old tradition commemorates a Poznan baker's dream: once he saw in a dream St. Martin entering the city on a white horse that lost its golden horseshoe. The following morning, the baker whipped up horseshoe-shaped croissants filled with almonds, white-poppy seeds and nuts and gave them to the poor.
Image: St. Martin Croissants. Source: http://en.poland.gov.pl/Saint,Martin,8849.html
In Hungary the St. Martin’s Day (Márton nap) is a traditional feast day usually celebrated by tasting the new wine and eating geese. This day falls right around the time when the geese born in the spring and early summer gain their necessary weight and are ready to be slaughtered. It is also the time when the first new wines are opened after the season's grape harvest, making it a perfect pairing for the St. Martin’s Day festivities.
In Denmark the "Mortensaften" ("the evening of St. Martin", as Morten is the Danish vernacular form of Martin) is celebrated with traditional dinners, while the day itself is rarely recognized. In Sweden on St. Martin's Eve, November 10, it is time for the traditional dinner of roast goose. The custom is particularly popular in Skåne in southern Sweden, where goose farming has long been practised, but it has gradually spread northwards.
In Estonia, the festival is called "Mardipäev" ("Martinmas"). It is one of the most important dates in the calendar, related to folklore traditions and containing elements of popular beliefs, as for example the cult of the dead originated in pagan times.
The feast celebrates the end of the yearly farming activities on the fields and the beginning of winter, with the souring of the cabbage, while women continue to work indoors and men in the woods. It is also the time for the division among the farmers of the crops harvested in common.
The feast indicates also the end of the period of commemorating ancestors that lasts from November 1. On St. Martin's Eve young people, wearing masks and costumes, move from farm to farm, singing songs, telling jokes and wishing good luck to crops, livestock and family in return for sweets and fruit.
Estonian folklore archives include about 1,500 variants of the songs about St. Martin, indicating the extraordinary importance of this type of ritual chant and the persistence of the tradition. The highlight of the festival is the banquet based on goose, with a series of traditional folk dances, music and games. In the region of Laanemae the festival includes also the theatrical representation of "The Marriage of St. Martin", a fake marriage involving a bride and groom in disguise.
The feast is known as Martinmas in England and as Martlemass in Scotland. Martlemass beef was beef from cattle slaughtered at Martinmas and salted or otherwise preserved for the winter. An old English saying is: "His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog," meaning "he will get his comeuppance" or "everyone must die".
In Ireland many legends and traditions, connected with St. Martin, are recorded.
In Wexford, when a sheep or a goat was sick and about to die, the farmer made a cut on its ear dedicating it to the Saint. If the animal recovered, it had be killed and eaten on the following day and was not to be sold in the meantime.
On St. Martin's Night, there was the tradition of sacrificing a cock, whose blood was collected and sprayed on the four corners of the house.
No wheel was turned on St. Martin's Day, because, according to a legend, Martin was thrown into the water stream leading to the mill and killed by the mill wheel. Also no boat went into the sea, due to another legend about some fishing boats that were on sea in the morning of St. Martin's Day. The fishermen saw St. Martin walking on the waves and warning them to return home. All those who ignored his warning drowned in a storm occurred in the afternoon.
In Malta, St. Martin's Day, or Jum San Martin, is celebrated during the period called "Is Sajf-ta" (St. Martin’s summer), during which walnuts, almonds and figs are gathered in Malta. Many traditions and games are based on these fruit, such as Zewg jew fard, a kind of game where kids win the nuts by betting.
An important feature of the period is collecting alms, by which children are given a so-called "St Martin's bag", filled with walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, chestnuts, figs, seasonal fruit (oranges, mandarins, apples and pomegranates) and St. Martin's bread (Hobza ta 'San Martin). There is a rhyme associated with this practice: “Ġewż, Lewż, Qastan, Tin Kemm inħobbu lil San Martin” (Walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, figs, I like St. Martin so much). These fruit become the ingredients of many traditional recipes, such as "Kejk ta San Martin" – St. Martin’s cake.
In Portugal St. Martin's Day is traditionally celebrated around a bonfire by young people, whose faces are masked or covered with ashes as a reminiscence of ancient cults in honor of the dead. A tradition in Barqueiros is to prepare at midnight a table with roasted chestnuts for the visiting deads and to drink água-pé, meaning "foot water", an alcoholic beverage made by adding water to juice left by squeezing grapes, and also jeropiga, a sweet liquor obtained in a similar way.
A typical Portuguese saying is: "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").
In Spain St. Martin's Day is the traditional day for slaughtering pigs, as confirmed by the saying "A fall cerdo llegar of the San Martín," ("Every pig has its St. Martin's day").
Below an inage from the St Martin's Day celebration in Poznan, Poland (source: http://en.poland.gov.pl/)