11 November 2014

Martinmas and the Beginning of Tradsgiving Season

Happy Martinmas, everyone! Today is the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, the great Gallic bishop of yore.  I wrote this piece a couple of years back that links to some great sites for information on the Saint and the customs of the feast:
November 11 is the Feast of St. Martin of Tours. Unfortunately, Martinmas does not get the same play in the U.S. as it does in many European countries. But, as this timely article from Crisis Magazine reminded me, he is a great model and intercessor for Catholics in today's societal cesspool.

There are many cool customs for the feast-- of course, Catholics like to celebrate! Here is a
page over at fisheaters with a write-up on the life of St. Martin and some of the customary ways to celebrate the feast. Why not invite a local blogger to your home for a dinner of roasted goose?

St. Martin's Feast is considered the first day of Winter for practical purposes, so, alluding to the snows of that season, the Germans say that "St Martin comes riding on a white horse." Of course, it might not feel like Winter if one is experiencing a "St. Martin's Summer" -- the equivalent of an "Indian Summer." It is said, too, that one can predict what sort of Winter one will have by the conditions of St. Martin's Day: "If the geese at Martin’s Day stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas."

The Feast coincides not only with the end of the Octave of All Souls, 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 (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"). Because of this, St. Martin's Feast is much like the American Thanksgiving (celebrated on the 4th Thursday in November) -- a celebration of the earth's bounty. Because it also comes before the penitential season of Advent, it is seen as a mini "carnivale" with all the feasting and bonfires. As at Michaelmas on 29 September, goose is eaten in most places (the goose is a symbol for St. Martin himself. It is said that as he was hiding from the people who wanted to make him Bishop, a honking goose gave away his hiding spot), but unlike most Catholics, those of Britain and Ireland prefer pork or beef on this day.

In many countries, including Germany, Martinmas celebrations begin at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month. Bonfires are built, and children carry lanterns in the streets after dark, singing songs for which they are rewarded with candy.

The photo above from Wikipedia shows some Dutch children marching with their paper lanterns. May we all have a blessed Martinmas and pray to this great Saint to be examples of Catholic faith and virtue in a godless world.
In another blast from the past, in this post I suggested a new way to approach the "holiday season", which really ought to be known as the traditionally Catholic way of understanding and celebrating the feasts of the year.  Since that wasn't catchy enough for the cynical Generation X (my term for everyone younger than me :-|), I called it Tradsgiving:
Well, pardon, gentles all, if I re-label the holiday season this year.  I'm not referring to Festivus, either.  I'm talking about Tradsgiving.  If the world can lump every occasion into one long season, then so can we. Tradsgiving is the celebration of the next two-and-a-half months.  Let's say it begins with Martinmas on November 11 and continues to the Feast of the Purification on February 2.  Tradsgiving is stocked with traditional Catholic feasts and customs.

First of all, this is as good a time a year as any to be thankful for Summorum Pontificum.  Next, we have a real commemoration of Advent, including the Wreath, the Novena to the Immaculate Conception, the great Marian feast itself, and the now discarded Ember Days on December 14, 16, and 17.  These are followed by  the "O Antiphons" in the in the breviary the Octave before Christmas.

Finally, beginning on Christmas Day, there are so many rich Catholic traditions:  Midnight Mass, the veneration of the relic of the Creche, the tree and the carols, all the great Saint days in the Octave and beyond (including the blessing of wine on St. John's Day); the feast of the Circumcision, Twelfth Night, Epiphany (with the blessing of Epiphany water, chalk and the blessing of homes), the Holy Name, the Holy Family, the Feast of St. Francis de Sales and, lastly and gloriously, the feast of the Purification of Mary (Candlemas), with the blessing of Candles and the commemoration of the Purification and the Presentation of Our Lord.

So why not just step right up and call it all what it is?  It used to just be known as the seasons of Advent and Christmas-- back when the Church retained her prerogative to mark the seasons of the year according to her ancient cycle.  But maybe we need a new tag to reclaim this most Catholic of seasons for Catholics who want to mark it.

Happy Tradsgiving, everyone!
I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane as much as I enjoyed cutting and pasting it.

1 comment:

Siderúrgico said...


Interestingly, there is a similar saying in Spain: "A cada cerdo le llega su San Martín", with the exact same meaning. Saint Martin is (was) not otherwise celebrated much in Spain.