11 Nov Have a nice Saint Martin’s Day
Have a nice Saint Martin’s Day!
November was to the ancient Celts and Teutons an important month and round Martinmas (November 11) popular customs seem to cluster thickly.
In Silesia when it snows at Martinmas, they say that Saint Martin is coming on his white steed, it might be noticed also the “Schimmelreiter” (The Rider on the White Horse) shows up at a similar time in the year. In certain respects, it has been implied that St. Martin may have replaced the old god Woden. It is maybe not without significance that, similar to Woden, St. Martin is a military legend, and considered as a rider or knight on horseback. At Düsseldorf the custom exists that during his festival celebration St. Martin is represtended by a man riding on another comrade’s back.
The most clear element of celebrating Martinmas in ancient times is its physical feasting. It was a period of heavy drinking, devouring meat, and of animal sacrifices, as it was known by the Saxons name given to November, Blot-monath, Blood month. Christmas does not appear to have immediately superseded mid-November as one of the most popular feasts in Teutonic regions. The tradition of slaughter is preserved in the British custom of killing cattle on St. Martin’s Day (Martlemas beef) and in German regions eating of St. Martin’s geese and swine.
On St. Martin’s Eve in Germany and the Low Lands it’s the start to meet those peculiar winter guests. On one hand one can encounter in this period of time brilliant Saints and heavenly visitors and on the other, ridicule horrendous intruders and black masked beasts. These characters certainly add a great amount to the sentiment and mystery of the children’s “Martinmas” and later “Christmas” too. Such visitors are to be found in many regions, however it is in the lands of Germanic speech that they take the most lifelike and colorful forms. St. Martin, St. Nicholas, Christkind, Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, the black masked hunters and many others are genuine and individual beings to the children, and are anticipated with wonderful desire or mild fear. Frequently they are viewed not simply with the creative ability but rather in physical form too, when father or family member is wondrously changed into a supernatural character.
What are the origins of these blessed or monstrous creatures? It is hard to say with 100% certainty, for many of the elements, Pagan and Christian, appear to be firmly mixed over the centuries. It is pretty obvious, in any case, that the odd half-creature shapes are immediate relics of heathendom, and it is plausible that the types of holy people or Saints — even, maybe, of the Christ Child Himself represent the attempts of the Church to change and bless alien things which she couldn’t smother. In spite of the fact that no adult individual would consider the mimic Martin or Nicholas important these days, there appear to be at the root of them things once viewed as of crucial of life and community. Pretty much as fairy tales, initially genuine attempts to clarify natural facts, have now become reading for kids, so rituals which our ancestors considered of immense significance for human welfare have ended up mere recreations to divert the young children.
On St. Martin’s Eve, even nowadays the Saint shows up in many Flemish towns. He is a man dressed up as a bishop, with a staff in his hand, much as St. Nicholas does. His business is to inquire as to whether the youngsters have been “good,” and if the consequence of his request is agreeable he tosses down apples, nuts, and cakes. If not, it is rods that he leaves behind. At Ypres he doesn’t obviously show up, however kids hang up stockings loaded with hay, and next morning discover presents in them, cleared out by the holy person in appreciation for the fodder provided to his horse. He is envisioned as a rider on a white stallion, and a similar conception prevails in Austrian Silesia, where he brings the “Martin’s horns”, a symbol of the Hunt … More on the link with the Ancient Wild Hunt in another post.