A Cultural Sidenote (5)

November 11, the Portuguese will celebrate St. Martin’s Day.  The feast day is named after St. Matins of Tours, who started out as a Roman soldier. He was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying of the cold. In Portugal, first two weeks of November, called Verão de São Martinho (St. Martin’s Summer) the weather is usually fairly warm and sunny. The Potuguese believe this is a blessing from God each year in recognition of Saint Martinho’s good deed of giving his cloak to a farmer who was out working in his field in bitter cold weather but had no cloak. St. Martin’s Day is commonly associated with the celebration of the maturation of the year’s wine. It is celebrated, traditionally, around a bonfire, eating magusto, (chestnuts) roasted under the embers of the bonfire (and sometimes dry figs and walnuts), and drinking a local light alcoholic beverage called água-pé (made by adding water to the pomace left after the juice is pressed out of the grapes for wine.  Some people honor the dead by preparing, at midnight, a table with chestnuts for the deceased family members to go and eat. The people also mask their faces with the dark wood ashes from the bonfire. A typical Portuguese saying related to Saint Martin’s Day: É dia de São Martinho;comem-se castanhas, prova-se o vinho. (It is St. Martin’s Day,we’ll eat chestnuts, we’ll taste the wine.)

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