Martinmas: Celebrating the Oncoming Winter
We don’t always think of the medieval period as being a time of parties. But people then actually celebrated a variety of special days, many named for saints. Often the saint day observances coincided with earlier (pagan) celebrations.
On Nov. 11, St. Martin’s Day or Martinmas was, indeed, a major holiday. The Martinmas feast, celebrated the end of autumn and the ‘natural’ beginning of winter.
By November the autumn harvest was complete and the land prepared for winter crops. Time to get ready for the challenging days of winter. Hogs that had been turned out into the woods in October to fatten on acorns were brought in and slaughtered, and the meat preserved. Cattle were butchered, as well, keeping only those few used to begin production in the spring. (Food was scarce enough; extra for animals wasn’t available.)
In fact, the term Martinmas (or martlemass) cattle was applied to cattle butchered at this time of year. And the hog slaughter is reflected in the old English saying his “His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog,” meaning “he will get his comeuppance” or “everyone must die” (Wikipedia.com).
Because of this widespread butchering, November was often called Bloodmonth. Sounds gruesome, doesn’t it? Actually, it refers to this period of slaughtering animals to be preserved for food during the long, cold months ahead.
The Old English name for November was ‘Blotmonth’ literally “blood-month,” “the time when the early Saxons prepared for winter by sacrificing animals, which they then butchered and stored for food” (etymonline.com). The name November came from “ninth month” which was where November fell in the old Roman calendar.
This celebration of the end-of-harvest-beginning-of-winter honors St. Martin of Tours. A predominant image of St. Martin is of his cutting his cloak in half during snowstorm and sharing with a beggar he saw along the roadside. It is said that during that same night, he had a dream of Jesus who appeared in half a cloak and said Martin has been chosen.
He was a former Roman soldier who later became a humble monk and so deplored the idea of becoming a bishop, tradition says, he hid in a pen of geese. It didn’t save him. The honking geese alerted churchmen to his whereabouts. He was brought forth and ordained Bishop of Tours. Thereafter, geese were identified with St. Martin. And goose traditionally was eaten during the Martinmas feasts. Unless you were poor, of course. Then you couldn’t afford it. If you were lucky, you got chicken. Or maybe pork. Or beef. Those two meats were handy, after all.
In the countryside, this time of bounty was celebrated with bonfires, dancing and, of course, drinking and eating. In Scotland, it was a quarter day. (England’s corresponding quarter day fell in September.)
St. Martin’s day, the first feast day in November, could be considered a ‘man’s day.’ But the second November feast/holiday later in the month was in honor of St. Catherine. It was considered a ‘ladies’ day.’ It gave rise to the term the Catherine Wheel. But that’s another story.
Thanks for stopping by to hear the story of St. Martin’s Day and Feast. It sounds a lot like Thanksgiving, doesn’t it? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?
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20 thoughts on “MEDIEVAL MONDAY CELEBRATES MEDIEVAL MARTINMAS”
What an interesting post. Did Martinmas disappear by the time of the Regency? I suppose any bonfires were moved earlier to Guy Fawke’s Day. Thanks for sharing this!
Hi Alina. Interesting question. But you’re probably right on that. Guy Falk’s Day was a big celebration! thanks for stopping by.
Wow, interesting post Barbara. I enjoyed learning the traditions. Thanks for sharing!
I love learning about the old traditions too, Tena! So much rolled into a single celebration. thanks!
Thank you. My brother’s middle name is Martin, so the feast has special meaning. I had no idea, and am always thankful for learning more. Have a blessed Martinmas. My favorite Thanksgiving dish, by the way, is the dressing.
Just tell your brother he can have an extra celebration a year 🙂 I love dressing too. But you know–none matching the dressing my mother always made–from scratch. 🙂 Happy Day to you as well !!
Interesting post! I didn’t know this.
Thanks, Ilona. I find all these combined holiday celebrations absolutely fascinating. At least the regular people had some holidays for fun 🙂
So from this came the English Christmas goose? I always learn something reading your blog! My favorite Thanksgiving food is Coca-Cola brown sugar glazed ham with cloves. We’re not big turkey fans so this is our go to meat. Wishing you blessings on men’s and women’s days and on Thansgiving!
The glazed ham sounds delicious! I’ve never tried the Cola brown sugar recipe. I’ll have to give it a go this year. Thanks for the idea 🙂
Thanks for this informative post. Who’d have thougth? D
I know! So much of the “old” religion and the ‘new’ mixed together, right? Thanks for being here, Donna.
What an interesting post!
Thanks for sharing.
Good luck and God’s blessings
I really appreciate your kind words, Pamela. May you have a blessed week as well. Cheers.
So enjoyed this post, Barbara. And I must add the Scottish saint for this month: Saint Andrew! My favorite Thanksgiving dish is homemade pumpkin pie, and my husband’s stuffing. Even our kids beg him to make the stuffing. Happy Medieval Monday! 🙂
Sounds like you husband has quite a touch with that dressing.I love a good dressing, too. But nothing I can produce meets my mom’s. My son does the pumpkin pies in our family. He’s got a touch for that! Happy Week, my friend!
Fascinating info about little-known medieval holiday traditions! Thanks, Barbara!!!
thanks Ivy. Yes, there’s always something new to learn about the ‘old’ holidays and traditions. So interesting. Thanks for being here. Happy Medieval Monday
What a fascinating post! I am always learning from you, Barb! Thank you for sharing this wonderful and interesting information. Happy Medieval Monday! 🙂
Happy Medieval Monday to you, as well 🙂 Hope you’re getting settles back after your trip to Scotland. (You lucky lady, you!! LOL) Cheers, my friend.
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