Martinmas is a feast day that is celebrated on November 11th. This day – also known as St. Martin’s Day, the Feast of St. Martin and Martinstag – is a day in which people not only remember and honor St. Martin of Tours but is also a day traditionally associated with the fall harvest. In the past, it was a day when farm hands were hired to “bring in” the fall harvest and animals were slaughtered in preparation of winter.
The Life Of St. Martin
Martin of Tours was born in 316 AD in what is now modern-day Hungary. Since his father was a veteran Roman officer, he was required to join the Roman cavalry – which he did at the age of fifteen. In 334 or 335, he is believed to have been placed in the Emperor’s elite cavalry unit – one which followed the Emperor around the provinces to protect him from attacks.
St. Martin would serve in the Roman military for another two years before he would go on to become a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers. In 371, Martin became Bishop of Tours and began a campaign to destroy all of the pagan altars and temples that existed during the time.
During much of this campaign, he received vocal opposition from the priests of many pagan religions – particular those of the druids. However, he prevailed and replaced many of the religious institutions of these faiths with institutions devoted to Christianity. In 397, St. Martin died in Candes-Saint-Martin, Gaul.
History of Martinmas
St. Martin’s stiff opposition to pagan religions and his conversion of these practitioners to Christianity actually allowed many of the pagan traditions to be absorbed into the practices of this saint’s feast day.
Many of the traditions which are now associated with this day can be directly attributed to ancient Druid customs – such as the slaughtering of fattened cattle which was also common during a Druid festival called Samhain.
Customs, Traditions And Celebrations
Traditionally, Martinmas was a time when the cattle was slaughtered and the winter wheat was sown. It was also a time when traditionally wine was ready to be drank. Today, it is still celebrated very much as a fall holiday with much food and drink consumed during this time.
In many parts of Europe – particularly in parts of Germany and Austria – this feast day is celebrated with the lighting of huge bonfires called Martinsfeuer. There is also usually a lantern procession where children carry lanterns and sing songs.
In Ireland, there are several traditions performed on this day. One of these is the slaughter of a rooster on the eve of this day. After the rooster has been bled out, its blood is then placed on the four corners of the house. In the United States, there are some communities who celebrate the day with lantern processions. In France, there are normally many horse fairs that are launched on this day.