Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Related to Martinmas: Martinmas summer


the feast of St Martin on Nov. 11; one of the four quarter days in Scotland
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Funkentag, Martinalia, Martinsfest, Martinstag,

St. Martin's Day

Martinmas, or St. Martin's Day, falls on November 11. This Christian feast day honors St. Martin of Tours (c. 316-397 the popular customs that have been associated with it over the centuries resemble those connected to a much earlier pagan autumn festival. In medieval Europe, the arrival of Martinmas signaled the beginning of winter. In early medieval times, the festival marked the beginning of Advent in some parts of Europe.

Life and Legends of St. Martin

Born into a pagan family in Hungary in the late fourth century St. Martin became interested in Christianity and a monastic life at an early age. His military father forced him to become a soldier, however. Many tales about the saint's life illustrate his generosity. In the most famous of these, Martin, while stationed in Amiens, France, as a soldier, encountered a beggar shivering miserably in the cold. Martin quickly removed his cloak, cut it in half with his sword, and covered the beggar with the cloth. That night Jesus appeared to Martin in a vision declaring, "Martin the catechumen hath clothed me in this garment." Shortly afterwards Martin was baptized. At the age of forty he left the army and began a life of religious devotion. He was elected bishop of Tours in 371

One legend tells that when the retiring saint heard the news of his election, he was so flustered that he ran away and hid in a barn, but the squawking of a goose soon announced his presence. The goose thereafter became a symbol of the saint. As bishop of Tours, Martin gained a reputation for religious fervor by converting his entire diocese to the new religion of Christianity and replacing the pagan temples with Christian churches. St. Martin eventually became one of the most popular saints of the medieval era.


In pre-Christian times the Germanic peoples of north-central Europe celebrated a great autumn festival. As pastures thinned with the coming of cold weather, they slaughtered the animals that could not be kept alive and preserved most of their meat for the winter. At this time the people gathered together, feasted on fresh meat, and drank. They may also have honored the dead and lit ceremonial bonfires at these celebrations. This festival probably marked the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year in pre-Christian times. According to several scholars, some of the customs associated with medieval Yule celebrations were actually transferred to that season from earlier celebrations of this great autumn festival. At least one researcher has identified the date of this ancient Germanic new year festival as November 11 or 12.


The Christian festival of Martinmas developed in the several hundred years that followed the saint's death in the late fourth century. In 490 A . D . Bishop Perpetuus of Tours called for a forty-day period of partial fasting in preparation for Christmas. This period began on November 11, a day already associated with the veneration of St. Martin, and was known as the "Forty Days' Fast of St. Martin," or "St. Martin's Lent." In later times these weeks of spiritual preparation for Christmas came to be called Advent. Pope Martin I (d. 655) established Martinmas as a great Church festival. He may have been attempting to provide a Christian rationale for the celebrations that pagan northern Europeans still held around this time of the year. In the Middle Ages some referred to Martinmas by the Latin name Martinalia.

The customs associated with medieval celebrations of Martinmas closely resemble those connected with earlier pagan celebrations. In the Middle Ages the feast of Martinmas marked the beginning of winter. Customs in some regions suggest that it may have been treated as a kind of new year as well. In areas of England, France, and Germany, leases ended at Martinmas, rents were due, and servants left households in search of new employment. In his eighthcentury chronicles, St. Bede (c. 672-735) noted that the Anglo-Saxon term for November was Blot Monath, or "Blood Month," in reference to the customary slaughtering of animals that took place during that month. Not only did this old custom attach itself firmly to Martinmas, but so also did the feasting and drinking of earlier November celebrations. In medieval times Martinmas may have served as a kind of thanksgiving festival during which the people rejoiced at the close of the harvest and their full barns and larders. In Germany St. Martin became the patron saint of the harvest, as well as the champion of the poor.

The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation created a new rationale for this traditional November festival. Rather than forbid the celebration of the day because it venerated a Roman Catholic saint, Protestant authorities dedicated the celebrations to Martin Luther, the German founder of the Protestant movement who was born on November 10, 1483. In some areas of Germany the celebrations were shifted to November 10; in others the people continued to celebrate on November 11 in the belief that the Protestant reformer was baptized on that day. In Germany the holiday acquired the name Mar-tinsfest or Martinstag, meaning "Martin's Festival" or "Martin's Day."

Martinmas Fires

In Germany and the Netherlands, great bonfires roared on Martinmas or Martinmas Eve in past times. In the fifteenth century, the festival acquired the nickname Funkentag (Spark Day) in Germany, due to the many fires that blazed in honor of the occasion. In the centuries that followed, people in Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Belgium, also participated in lantern parades on Martinmas Eve, marching through the darkened streets of town with lanterns or jack-o'-lanterns fashioned out of turnips or pumpkins.

Martinmas Feasts

The central and enduring customs of Martinmas feature the preparation and consumption of meat and drink. The date at which the holiday falls in the agricultural cycle anchored these customs to it. In Britain the customary slaughter of cattle on Martinmas produced "Martlemas Beef," the salted and dried meat that sustained people throughout the lean winter months. In Germany, Denmark, Ireland, and Scandinavia goose became the traditional Martinmas feast, perhaps in reference to the Christian legend connecting the saint with a goose. Another possible explanation for this association between Martinmas and geese arises from an old German agricultural custom; in past centuries people fattened geese for the fall season, when they could be used to pay the taxes due on Martinmas. Not every European country favored roast goose for their Martinmas feast, however. In Portugal the traditional St. Martin's Day feast featured roast pig.

According to old German and Italian traditions, the year's new wines were sampled for the first time on Martinmas. People who got drunk on Martinmas were often called "Martinmen," as were people given to spending their money on short-lived good times. Indeed, so important was this association between Martinmas and wine that St. Martin became the patron saint of tavernkeepers, wine makers, and drunkards. Indulging in large quantities of meat and drink persists as a perennial feature of the holiday. In France the upset stomach that often follows the consumption of too much food and drink is known as mal de Saint Martin, or "Saint Martin's sickness." St. Martin's Day is still observed in Europe with traditional festive meals, most commonly of roast goose.

Martinmas Folklore

Long after pagan European religions disappeared, early November retained its association with the commemoration of the dead. Old Scottish and Irish folk beliefs declared that the ghosts of the dead returned to their old homes on Martinmas. In the twentieth century, the festivals of early November still link the season to the remembrance of the dead. On November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, the British commemorate the capture and execution of a group of men who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In Britain and North America many celebrate October 31 as Halloween, a folk festival associated with spirits of the dead. Christians in many countries observe All Saints' Day on November 1 and All Souls' Day on November 2. Even the secular calendar retains November 11 as a date sacred to the memory of the dead. After World War I, November 11 was established as Armistice Day and dedicated to the memory of the soldiers who died in that war. (In Britain and Canada the day is known as Remembrance Day). In 1954 Armistice Day became Veterans Day in the United States, and its purpose broadened to include the recognition of all those who have served in the United States armed forces.

In some European countries St. Martin became a gift-bearing folk figure, much like St. Nicholas. He was often depicted as a bishop garbed in red robes riding a white horse. In Belgium and other European countries he distributes sweets to well-behaved children on St. Martin's Eve, but badly behaved youngsters may receive a rod instead.

A variety of folk beliefs and sayings link Martinmas with the weather. In Europe the temperate days that often surround Martinmas may be referred to as "St. Martin's Summer." Legend has it that God first sent mild weather at this time of year to shield St. Martin from the cold, since he had just given half of his cloak to a beggar. An English folk belief suggests that if Martinmas is mild, the coming winter will be severe, whereas if frost occurs before Martinmas, the winter will be gentle.

Martinmas in Contemporary Germany

In the twentieth century Martinmas Eve fires still blazed along the banks of the Rhine and Moselle rivers in Germany. Although fire safety has become an issue in recent decades, the fires burn on in some parts of Germany. Excited children collect cardboard, tree branches, and other tinder for weeks in anticipation of the event. Lantern parades continue to be celebrated in Germany, although they have become primarily a children's custom. Children fashion elaborate lanterns from paper or recreate the traditional turnip lanterns. The finished lanterns dangle from a wooden pole. In some areas the lantern processions end with a reenactment of St. Martin's most famous deed, sharing his cloak with a beggar. Afterwards the children disperse, singing songs (Martinslieder) and reciting rhymes for neighbors and shopkeepers. In return, they are given small gifts (Martinswecken), such as nuts, candies, apples, cookies, and coins.

Further Reading

Christmas in Germany. Second edition. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Passport Books, 1995. Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythol-ogy, and Legend. New York: Harper and Row, 1984. MacDonald, Margaret Read, ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1992. Russ, Jennifer M. German Festivals and Customs. London, England: Oswald Wolff, 1982. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Festivals of Western Europe. 1958. Reprint. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1994. Thompson, Sue Ellen, ed. Holiday Symbols. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1998. Tille, Alexander. Yule and Christmas: Their Place in the Germanic Year. London, England: David Nutt, 1899. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1992.
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003


Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian), Folkloric
Date of Observation: November 11
Where Celebrated: British Isles, Scandinavia, Western Europe
Symbols and Customs: Bonfires, Goose, Rod


Martinmas is part of the religious tradition of Christianity. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

Martinmas is the popular name for the feast day of St. Martin of Tours (316-397 C . E .), the patron saint of France. Pope Martin I (649-654 C . E .) made it a great church festival, probably in an attempt to Christianize the old Teutonic custom of slaughtering animals in mid-November because they couldn't be kept alive throughout the long winter.

During the Middle Ages, November 11 was regarded as both the beginning of the year and the beginning of winter, a time when rents for pastures were paid and farm servants changed jobs. It was called the Martinalia because it took the place of the Vinalia or vintage feast of ancient Rome and was observed by opening the first cask of the year's vintage.

In addition to giving thanks for the new wine, Martinmas was also a day of thanksgiving for the harvest. For rural people, Martinmas came at a happy time of year: The crops were in, the new wine was ready, the animals had been slaughtered, and it was time to relax. Not surprisingly, St. Martin became the patron saint of tavern keepers, wine-growers, and drunkards. The Feast of St. Martin is still observed as a harvest festival in Scandinavia and rural parts of Europe, with roast GOOSE being the traditional dish of the harvest feast.

Over the centuries, Martinmas has shifted from a religious feast to a folk festival. In Belgium and other western European countries, St. Martin's role is much like that of St. Nicholas. He appears dressed as a bishop in red robes, riding on a white horse. To children who have behaved well, he throws apples, nuts, and cakes; an ill-behaved child receives a ROD . Sometimes children fill their stockings with hay for St. Martin's horse and find them full of gifts the next morning.

Martinmas is also associated with the weather. In fact, the mild weather that often occurs in Europe in early November is referred to as "St. Martin's summer"- much like Indian summer in the United States. This goes back to an old legend that says St. Martin cut his cloak in two and gave half to a beggar who was nearly frozen with the cold. God sent warm weather so that the saint would be comfortable until he was able to find another cloak.



The bonfires that can still be seen in Belgium, Holland, and parts of Germany on St. Martin's Day (or the night before) can be traced back to pagan times, when they were lit to ward off evil spirits and promote fertility. During the fifteenth century, so many fires were lit in Germany on this day that the festival was called Funkentag (Spark Day).

In northwestern Germany today, the fire is often contained in lanterns made of paper or carved-out turnips (see HALLOWEEN), carried through the streets by processions of children on St. Martin's Eve. Jumping over lighted candles set in the floor is another popular German fire custom. Elsewhere, young people dance around bonfires and leap through the flames. Later, the ashes are scattered over the fields to make them fertile.


As mentioned above, mid-November was the season for slaughtering farm animals among the Teutonic peoples. In fact, the original Anglo-Saxon name for November was Blot-monath or "blood month," associated not only with animal sacrifices but with feasting on meat. The tradition of slaughter has been preserved in the British custom of killing cattle on St. Martin's Day-referred to as "Martlemas beef"-and in the German custom of eating "St. Martin's Goose."

Why goose? According to an old legend, when St. Martin heard that he had been elected Bishop of Tours, the thought so intimidated him that he hid in a barn. But a goose found him there and made such a racket that his whereabouts were soon discovered.

In Denmark, a goose is eaten for the Martinmas meal and then its breastbone is examined for clues regarding the approaching winter. A very white bone is a sign of snow, while brown means extreme cold.

In parts of Ireland, it was common in the nineteenth century to kill an animal on Martinmas and sprinkle its blood over the threshold. Neglecting this custom- which may have been a holdover from the old Celtic festival of SAMHAIN- would bring bad luck.


In Bavaria and Austria, a gerte or rod is associated with St. Martin's Day. Used to promote fertility among cattle and prosperity in general, the rods are given to farmers, to be used in the springtime when they drive the cattle out to pasture for the first time. In Bavaria, the rods are made from birch boughs with all the leaves and twigs stripped off-except at the top, where oak leaves and juniper twigs are fastened. Flogging is common in folk rituals, and in this case its purpose is to drive away evil influences and transfer the life-giving virtues of the tree from which the rod is made.

There is some connection between the custom of flogging and St. Martin's role as a European Santa Claus. In Antwerp, Belgium, St. Martin throws down rods for naughty children as well as nuts and apples for good ones-just as Santa Claus leaves gifts for good children and a lump of coal for those who have misbehaved. In ancient times, beating someone didn't have the negative connotations it has today, but was instead a positive gesture meant to bestow virtue and vitality. In any case, it is interesting to note that so many pagan customs have gathered about the festival of a Christian saint.


Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Miles, Clement A. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan. 1912. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Pike, Royston. Round the Year with the World's Religions. 1950. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Purdy, Susan. Festivals for You to Celebrate. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Weiser, Franz Xaver. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.


Irish Culture and Customs
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


November 11
This is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours (c. 316-397), one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. It is said that when he heard that he had been elected bishop of Tours, he hid himself in a barn. A squawking goose gave away his hiding place, and the day is still celebrated with roast goose dinners. Another popular legend involves St. Martin's cloak, which he divided with his sword, giving half to a shivering beggar.
In Germany and northern Europe, Roman Catholics commemorate St. Martin while Protestants commemorate Martin Luther's baptismal day ( see Martinsfest).
For rural people, Martinmas comes at a happy time of year: the crops are in, the animals have been slaughtered, the new wine is ready, and the hard work of summer and autumn is over. It's no surprise, then, that St. Martin is the patron saint of tavern keepers, wine-growers, and drunkards. There is a good deal of weather lore associated with this day. Spells of mild autumn weather that Americans refer to as "Indian summer" are called "St. Martin's summer" or "a Martinmas summer" in Europe and England. It was once a Quarter Day. Nowadays, in England, this day is more remembered as Armistice Day ( see Veterans Day).
In Belgium, where it is called Sint Maartens Dag, St. Martin's Day is a favorite holiday among children. Like St. Nicholas, St. Martin visits them on the feast day eve bringing them gifts. On November 11 apples and nuts are tossed into children's rooms while they stand with their faces turned to the wall. Gauffres, little waffle cakes, are particularly popular on St. Martin's Day.
This day is also an important festival in the Netherlands. There it is known as Beggar's Day, and boys and girls serenade their neighbors and beg for goodies. In many towns the children light a bonfire and dance and shout around it. Then they march in processions with lanterns made from scooped-out turnips, carrots, or beets.
In other European countries, St. Martin's Day is regarded as a time to give thanks for the harvest and is often observed with feasting. Goose is the traditional meal. In Sweden, November 11 is known as Martin's Goose Day ( Marten Gas ). In France, mal de Saint Martin (St. Martin's sickness) is the name given to the upset stomach that often follows overindulgence. There is also an impressive ceremony at St. Martin's shrine in Tours on this day.
See also Huerigen Parties; Quadrilles of San Martin; St. Martin's Day in Portugal
General Council of Indre-et-Loire
Place the prefecture
Tours, 37927 France
33-2-4731-4731; fax: 33-2-4731-4271
BkDays-1864, vol. II, p. 567
BkFest-1937, p. 107
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 286
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 682
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 463
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 204
FestWestEur-1958, pp. 18, 27, 48, 101, 140, 185, 216
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 650
OxYear-1999, pp. 456, 457
SaintFestCh-1904, p. 481

Celebrated in: Ireland

Martinmas (Ireland)
November 11
There are a number of superstitions and folk beliefs associated with Martinmas in Ireland. One is that you must have roast goose for dinner or risk eating no more goose in the coming year. (According to legend, when St. Martin heard that he had been elected Bishop of Tours, he hid himself in a barn but was given away by a squawking goose.) In any case, it is traditional to kill a sheep, lamb, kid, pig, calf, or cow on St. Martin's Eve and eat the meat on St. Martin's Day, after sprinkling the animal's blood in the four corners of the house as well as on the walls, threshold, and floor. A dot of blood is even smeared on the forehead of each family member in the belief that it will protect them from evil for one year. The shedding of blood may also be a survival of the time when animals were killed right before winter because it was difficult to find fodder.
On the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland, there is a legend that when St. Martin stopped at the house of a poor woman and asked for something to eat, she sacrificed her child because she had no meat to offer him. But when he left the house, the woman found her child still asleep in his cradle. Aran Islanders sacrifice an animal on Martinmas in memory of this miracle, and feed roast cock or goose to any beggar who comes to the door on November 11.
Fishermen in Ireland will not go fishing on Martinmas, believing that if they do, they will meet a horseman riding over the sea, followed by a terrible storm. It is also considered bad luck to turn a wheel of any kind—car, mill, or spinning—on this day.
BkDays-1864, vol. II, p. 568
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 287
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 682
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 651

Celebrated in: Ireland

Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Account-rolls with a year-end of Martinmas (November 11) are found regularly until 1360.
The Puritans who sailed to the New World in 1620 would have been familiar with the Feast of Martinmas, for they had lived in Holland for 10 years prior to their Atlantic voyage.
The Graph shows the frequency with which the main national almanacs mentioned ten Old Style festivals in the second half of the eighteenth century: Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Twelfth Day, Candlemas, Lady Day, May Day, Midsummer Day, Lammas, Michaelmas and Martinmas. These had been mentioned almost universally in the almanacs before 1752.
EST 8 Very close Venus-Jupiter conjunction (see "Sky Calendar" on page 18) 11 Veteran's Day, Martinmas; start of St Martin's summer.
UA also had forward 9960 store lambs and feeding sheep at the annual martinmas sale for BF lambs.
In accordance with tradition, people gather before at 6.45am, on Martinmas Eve or November 11, at a field on Knightlow Hill.
As Carnival was to Lent, so Martinmas was to Advent.
Trained by Con Collins, the daughter of Martinmas embarked on an ambitious schedule as a three-year-old that saw her finish third in the Irish 1,000 Guineas, and compete in the Oaks, Coronation Stakes and the Champion Sprint at York.
SUPPORTERS of Vincent O'Brien's Home Guard (L Piggott) needn't panic as the `maestro' comes late to snatch Newbury's Hungerford Stakes at 11 to 8 from Ian Balding's Irish 2,000 Guineas runner- up Martinmas (P Waldron).
WHEN does the Quarter Day in Scotland known as Martinmas fall?
People living in 25 Warwickshire parishes met a representative of the Duke of Buccleuch on a raised hillock in a foggy field at Knightlow Hill to perform the ancient Wroth Silver ceremony, which has been conducted on almost every Martinmas since 1170.
HIGHCLERE trainer Ian Balding's Martinmas (P Waldron) lifts the Greenham at Newbury from hot favourite Sharpen Up (L Piggott).