Monday 11 November 2019


This day is held in celebration of the funeral of Martin of Tours, recreating the procession originally held in 397 AD. The holiday coinciding with the end of harvest time, the festival celebrates the life of a former Roman centurion stationed in Gaul who converted to Christianity and was reluctantly ordained bishop after encountering a freezing beggar during a blizzard at the gates of Amiens (Samarobriva—bridge of the Somme) clad in rags only and charitably—without hesitation, rent his cloak in two and shared it with him.
That evening Martin had a vision that the beggar revealed Himself to be Jesus Christ and on awaking found his cloak miraculously made whole. The word chapel (Kapelle) and derived terms like chaplain come from the short cape (capella) that Martin had draped over his shoulder after the bit of tailoring. Like other celebrations that occur during winter’s bleak months (see also here and here), there’s an element of an abiding glimmer of light in the darkness to give the motivation to go on. A time of slaughter and feasting—it being untenable to feed some livestock and keep them through to spring—geese, the same that gave away Martin’s whereabouts to the conclave that nominated him for bishop, were killed at this time and like with Thanksgiving, it became traditional fare for this day. The timing of the holiday moreover saw a syncretism with Martin inheriting the attributes and patronage formerly held by the minor deity Aristaeus—son of Cyrene and Apollo, credited with discovering and then sharing some of the useful and agrarian arts like beekeeping, viniculture, shearing, cheesemaking, pickling, curing and herding. All of these professions fall under the guardianship of Martin—with a few more thrown in for good measure, like reformed alcoholics. Though today Saint Martin’s Day marks the beginning of the Karneval season in Germany, it was formerly one last feast before a fasting that was to be observed through the Feast of the Epiphany, like the fast of Lent. In some places, the parade and singing takes place a day early to also mark the birthday of reformer and namesake Martin Luther (*1483 — †1546).  Over time this period was shortened and rebranded as Advent.