St. Martin's Day Celebrations

Young wine, roasted goose and a white horse

Join Czechs as they gather in various pubs, restaurants and open-air festivals around Prague today and this weekend to celebrate the Feast of St. Martin's.

Celebrated as early as the 4th century in France, the tradition of the Feast of St. Martin's on November 11 spread to Scandinavia, Germany and Eastern Europe. Czechs observe the holiday today with a feast of roasted goose, dumplings and cabbage and a sampling of the first wine of this year.

The roots of the St. Martin's tradition are steeped in medieval legend. When Martin of Tours, a Roman solider, who later became a knight and then a monk, was trying to escape being ordained as a bishop in France, he hid in a goose pen. The geese's cackling gave Martin away. Known as a patron of children and the poor, St. Martin is also famous in the Catholic tradition for stopping a procession to cut his winter coat in half and give one-half to a freezing beggar.

Historically, St. Martin's Day was an important autumn festival which marked the beginning of winter and signified the end of the autumn harvest. After a day of feasting on goose and harvest bounty, the Catholic Church imposed a 40-day fast which lasted through January 6. Today, the fasting period is observed by the Church as Advent.

In the Czech Republic there is a proverb, Martin přijíždí na bílém koni (Martin is coming on a white horse), which means that during the first half of November snow is likely to come. Although the saying hasn't proved accurate in recent years, St. Martin's Day still marks the beginning of winter here.

Historically, the connection of St. Martin to young harvest wine isn't clear. In the Czech Republic at least, Svatomartinské víno (St. Martin's wine), a fresh and fruity young wine matured in just a few weeks, has become central to the feast day celebration. Traditionally, St. Martin's wine has a lighter flavor and less alcohol content.

It is possible to taste Svatomartinské víno, which is sold each November under the label of St. Martin on his white horse, in various Czech restaurants, pubs and wine bars from November 11, when it can be first opened at 11:11 a.m. St. Martin's wine shouldn't be kept to age, but must be drunk within a few months for the best flavor.

To purchase a St. Martin's wine look for the Svatomartinské varieties.

White: Müller Thurgau, Veltlínské červené rané, Muškát moravský
Red: Modrý Portugal a Svatovavřinecké
Rose: Modrý Portugal, Zweigeltrebe a Svatovavřinecké

Feast of St. Martin in Prague

To taste the first wine of this year's harvest and sample goose delicacies in Prague, visit the Jiřího z Poděbrad festival on November 11. The festival is free of charge and connected to the weekly farmer's market held at the square. Arrive by 11:11 and 11 seconds to see the ceremonial wine opening ceremony. However, wine and food will be available all day.

Visit the wine shop in Prague's Botanical Gardens to taste St. Martin's wine from both the Moravia and Bohemia regions. The wine tasting will be held in the wine shop in the garden's St. Claire vineyard (Vinici sv. Kláry) on November 11 from 11:00 – 13:00 with St. Martin's wine and other wines available for purchase.

For a weekend celebration, take a stroll to the Náplavka farmer's market on Saturday, November 14 for an all-day (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.) St. Martin's Festival. Sample wines from up to 28 Czech and Moravian wineries with the best selection of young wines. In addition to roasted goose, stands and restaurants at the festival will sell goose-burgers, goose-ragú with vegetables, roasted goose liver, roasted backbone and the traditional goose soup ‘kaldoun’. Beer will be served by the minibrewery ‘U Vacků’ from Chlumec nad Cidlinou.

Listen to music from a floating stage in the river, including the traditional folk band Trnka (CZ), swing rhythms played by the band Hot Wings (CZ), then Cílená Nejistota (CZ). The band Atmasféra (UA) will close the evening.

Some claim the Feast of St. Martin's Day is the Czech version of the American Thanksgiving. Visit one of Prague's restaurants this weekend to see for yourself. Order the traditional pečená husa (roasted goose) kaldoun (goose soup) and, of course, a glass of svatomartinské víno.

Look out for Martin on his white horse – despite recent days of warm weather, maybe he's on his way through.

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