St Martin was a Roman soldier who, legend has it, was riding his horse and minding his own business – except the weather was really bad. Seeing a beggar with almost no clothes on and who would probably die of cold, St Martin cut off his red cloak and gave it to the man.
God liked this kind gesture so much that he stopped the storm and let the sun shine through – that is the origin of the Portuguese expression Verão de São Martinho (St. Martin’s Summer). That means that, despite being rainy and cloudy as it usually is in November, on St Martin’s day the sun will show up even if only for a couple of hours.
All over Portugal you’ll a find a few religious celebrations linked to this saint, but for most people St Martin’s day is all about magusto (basically, eating and drinking within this specific context). Traditionally on this day, and this is something that also happens in other European countries, pigs are slaughtered and their meat gets to be used in dozens of ways in order to prepare for the Winter. Sweet potatoes, dried figs, chestnuts and walnuts are also a tradition at this time of the year.
Besides pork and roasted chestnuts, St Martin’s day is also when people traditionally taste the new wine that they started producing in September. Wine, however, is not the most common drink of choice at this time. There are two kinds of drink for magusto: jeropiga and água-pé. Long story short, when wine is produced (especially in the traditional method, by stomping on the grapes) you’re left with a residue called pomace, which is the pulp from all the grapes that were used. If you add water to that and let it ferment for a few days you get água-pé; if you add some aguardente you get jeropiga.
If you’re in Portugal at this time of the year, particularly near a city, you’re likely to find street vendors selling roasted chestnuts and you can buy half a dozen or a dozen of them. Pro tip: roasted chestnuts are particularly tasty on cold days, if you’re sitting on a park bench and sharing them with someone special!
I bet your country also has a few traditions for St Martin’s day. I’d love to hear about them in the comments!