A roast goose or bonbons on St. Martin’s Day

November 11th, 2007

As usual, the light of Armistice Day or Veteran’s Day is pale, grey.  A little mist in the air is typical, as I recall previous Veteran’s Days at other latitudes.  The trumpets and drums of Mouleydier’s musical fanfare play the brisk, concluding bars of the national anthem, the Marseilles.   Ceremonies at the village memorial for the fallen in twentieth century wars have come to a close.  Allons enfants, time for Sunday lunch. The November chill stirs appetites, and in homes throughout France relatives will gather round the table, together, having again paid respects to those absent.  The village remembers well, and the ceremonies always bring a lump to my throat, thinking about the sinistre, the day the village was burned in June 1944.   When I return home to scan the valley from my kitchen door, the fields called the champs des martyrs for those who died there, are quiet in the day’s dim light.  One does not forget.

But it is also a day to honor St.Martin, the patron saint of France, who shared his cloak with a freezing beggar in the fourth century. And this day is marked in many corners of Europe with more festive traditions. In northern Europe, a plump goose is roasted for dinner after a parade and bonfire.  Children in Flanders, western Belgium go ’round to neighbor’s doors with paper lanterns, singing special songs. The reward is something sweet and they return home with enough bonbons to last until St. Nicolas (December sixth). This seems to be a tradition in parts of Holland and Austria as well, with processions and songs. For Sao Martinho in Portugal, the day is marked with magustos - gatherings at the fireside to roast chestnuts and drink new wine.  An earlier custom in parts of Europe, in the days when the eleventh of November marked the end of the agricultural and financial year, involved the preparation of a roast goose feast before the six weeks of fasting prior to Noël. Fowl and any cattle that would not be taken through the winter were ready for slaughter, to be salted or preserved.  As times change and traditions evolve further beyond the rural calendar, such observances have been forgotten in most regions. But if you are with friends in Bruges on St. Maarten and hear the doorbell ring at twilight, be sure to have the candy dish filled to overflowing.

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