Czech Thanksgiving – St. Martin’s Day 2016

More than just a reason to eat goose and drink wine

Celebrated on November 11th, Saint Martin’s Day is the European equivalent of American Thanksgiving. The timing comes just after wheat seeding is complete and cattle are ready for slaughter. Harvest season is just the right time to hold the Feast of Saint Martin.

The date marks both the agricultural beginning of winter and the economical end of autumn. The man behind the celebration is St. Martin of Tours who was a Roman soldier until he became a monk. Known as friend of the children and patron of the poor, legend tells that he met a beggar during a snowstorm and cut his cloak in half to share it with the half-naked man.

The holiday originated in the land of great wine and cheese: France. Today it is celebrated in most of Europe, but almost every country has their own unique traditions. In the Czech Republic, restaurants will offer special menus on the day (and sometimes the following weekend) featuring roast goose.

In Prague, wine stores will pour their first of St Martin’s wines at 11:11 AM on November 11th. This Czech version of French Beaujolais nouveau is called Svatomartinské: it is a young wine from the most recent harvest. Not to be confused with fermented tummy-ache inducing burčák!

Czechs also have a proverb about the holiday - Martin přijíždí na bílém koni. This translates to “Martin is coming on a white horse” and is the Czech version of “Winter is coming”. Although the weather has been abnormal in the past few years, it used to be typical for snow to fall in the first half of November.

While it is celebrated differently around Europe, eating goose during the feast is traditional in every country. According to legend, St. Martin hid in a goose pen to avoid getting ordained but the cackling of the geese betrayed him. In the olden days, only the noblemen could afford to eat goose, so duck and hen were popular alternatives.

The comparison of the holiday to American Thanksgiving isn’t just about copious amounts of food being eaten. Both holidays celebrate the earth’s bounty. There is an old English saying that goes “His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog” meaning that everyone must eventually die.

It used to be customary to fast after the festival, which was a great encouragement to eat as much as you possibly can, guilt-free! The fasting period used to be much longer, requiring not eating for 3 days each week after the feast. The church eventually shortened the fasting period and today St. Martin’s day is a basically a run up for advent.

Although some believe that the holiday is losing popularity, there are still countless places in Prague where you can enjoy goose and sample young wine. Naplavka Farmer’s Market will host an all-day event on November 12th. There will be a wide assortment of goose themed foods including goose burger and, of course, way too many delicious wines to choose from.

Most restaurants in the city center as well as vineyards will also prepare something special for the day. St. Clare Vineyard for example will offer its usual beautiful scenery as well as refreshing wine for the occasion. Combine your visit with a tour of the Botanical gardens and enjoy the unique autumn atmosphere.

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