November 11th. Saint Martin's Day. Armistice Day. Veterans Day. Celebrated
The Portuguese celebrate November 11 as The Day of Saint Martin...yet he never set foot in Portugal. Other cultures celebrate other popular figures around the same date. Indeed in the USA it is celebrated as Veterans' Day, in Europe, Armistice Day. Is there a wider significance? What is the link between Portugal, Tours, the Native Americans and Chestnuts?
As for Veterans' Day, whose origin was in Armistice Day, the origin is in historical facts at the end of the First World War. By the end of 1918, with another cold winter approaching, the Revolutionary forces who had seized power in Berlin at the end of October, aware that the German armed forces on the western front were exhausted, called for peace and the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was not only a graphically significant day to end the war but was perhaps the earliest opportunity by which to get the Compiègne Peace Treaty drawn up for signature.
This appears to have nothing to do with the many festivities celebrated around this time of year in different countries and by different cultures.
São Martinho has a special significance in Portugal, since on November 11, his Saint's Day, he is celebrated with a festivity in which wine and chestnuts are shared, called Magusto. Erroneous versions of the origin of this man and the festivity abound and when we examine further, we see that the Festival of Saint Martin is neither Portuguese, nor is it confined to November 11, neither is Saint Martin of Tours French, nor is magusto a festive meal, but rather, a fire... (Magnus Ustus means Great Fire in Latin) an interesting example of how ancient lore can become customary law, gaining a completely new significance. Where to start?
Hallowe'en (or the Evening of All Hallows, these being "halos", the circle around a saint's head symbolising his or her saintliness) is indeed a Pagan festival symbolising the end of the agricultural year, the day of death. The Celtic name for this was Samhain (also Sauin, Oiche Shamhna, Samain) and it was a harvest festival, the night (October 31) by which agricultural chores had to be finished, marking the division between the light half and the dark half of the year. It also corresponded with the time that animals and plants began dying and so was hailed as the festival of the dead.
At the time, white was the color of death mainly in matriarchal societies in which the Moon was revered as the main deity (being feminine, a Goddess - Lat. Luna) while the owl, a nocturnal figure, was used as a religious effigy to place on the dead. As the Sun supplanted the Moon as the main deity (Lat. Sol, Solis, masculine) in patriarchal societies, the colour of death changed to black and different forms of the cross, were used to bury alongside the corpse).
In Europe, turnips were hollowed out and lit inside with oil to make faces to ward off the evil spirits and the first of the festivals of light was held, which permeated through all European cultures more or less at the same time at regular intervals during the winter months, until the beginning of the new year at Easter time (celebrating the festival of the Fertility Goddess Eastre, or Oestre, who was depicted with the symbol of the rabbit - fertility and the egg - eternity) and heralded a month beforehand by the Carnival Festivities, carnal festivities of Life after Death (Resurrection, rebirth of the agricultural year).
It makes sense, therefore, that the Haf Bach Mihangel in Wales on September 29, the Britt Mass in Sweden on October 7, the Altweibersommer in Germany/Austria in October, the Norn Witches of the Norse or Vikings, the Vénasszonyok Nyara of Hungary, Trezekeszomer on October 15 in Flanders, Guy Fawkes' Day in the UK (November 5) and finally Saint Martin's Day in Portugal, France, Italy and parts of Spain (November 11) ...were once part of these festivals of light.
Saint Martin of Tours was actually born in Sabaria, Pannonia (modern Hungary), in 316 AD, the son of a Tribune and commander in the Roman army, into which Martin (Martinius) was forced at 15 years of age, being sent to Gaul (France). It should be said his father was worried about Martin's Christian studies and his adhesion to Christianity and saw in the army a way to Romanise his son. His interference had the opposite effect. On his way, possibly crossing the Alps, Martin, sitting astride a horse, saw a beggar by the roadside. Stopping, Martin cut his cloak in two with his sword, giving half to the beggar. That night Jesus Christ appeared to Martin in a dream, wearing the half of the cloak, thanking him for it. Whether or not the cold autumnal days turned into bright sunshine, this time of year (when there are habitually some days of sunshine in mid-November) is revered in Portugal and elsewhere as Saint Martin's Summer (Verão de São Martinho). Perhaps the symbolism comes from the warmth given to the beggar by the sharing of the cloak.
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.