Today is the feast of St Martin, a very loveable saint.
Martinmas has an ambience of kindness, humility and hospitality.
Martin of Tours was a 4th century Roman soldier who saw a beggar crouched shivering with cold on a winter day. He dismounted from his horse, drew his sword (I bet the beggar was scared) and bisected his own warm woollen cloak with it, keeping one half for himself and giving half to the beggar — thus establishing a precedent of generous but sensible giving.
He had a dream after he cut his cloak in two for the beggar, in which he met Jesus — and noticed that Jesus was wearing the half of the cloak he'd given the beggar.
After his conversion to Christian way of faith, Martin wanted to stop being a soldier, but his father was an officer so they wouldn't let him. They gave in eventually, though, possibly because he adopted the habit of facing his enemies unarmed. Even his father could see this wouldn't end well. So Martin left military service and established a monastic community. There's a story that when the church authorities came to collect him to make him a bishop, he hid with the geese in their enclosure because he didn't want to go. Geese everywhere have paid dearly for their complicity, because roast goose became traditional Martinmas fare.
Martinmas is particularly associated with feasting. In the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, they hadn't yet discovered root vegetables. People ate meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, eggs, grain (bread and ale), fruit, and leafy vegetables like salad, onions, leeks, garlic, greens. This meant that once the summer and autumn fruit was all gone, both humans and their domestic animals depended on grain for food. At least some of the milk cows would be in calf for the spring, so their milk supply was dwindling. This meant competition for a decreasing food stock in cold weather. The solution was to slaughter any animals not necessary to regenerate the herds for the next year. As they didn't have fridges and freezers either, and salt was a very precious and expensive commodity, people feasted together on the glut of meat. Martinmas was a huge party.
It's also the time when the nights are lengthening and the weather starts to feel seriously chilly. The winter dark and cold are drawing in.
In Waldorf (Steiner) tradition, the children make colourful lanterns and go with their teachers and families for a lantern walk as night falls on St Martin's day. It's a reminder to let our light shine, to be lights in the darkness.
Once the meat was all eaten up (meat does keep for some days on stone slabs in the cold), the party would be over and it would be time for the household of faith to turn their attention to the second great fast of the year, Advent, a time of examination of one's soul and of reflective preparation for the coming of Christ.
There's a lot more detail in this article than I've given you here — interesting and worth reading. And here's a piece about a Waldorf Lantern Walk.
There are loads of pictures of St Martin, but I like this one because it has such a lovely horse.
It must surely be the case that fellow fans of the unforgettable and inimitable Father Ted cannot hear the phrase "lovely horse" without thinking immediately of Father Dougal's entry for the song contest, My Lovely Horse. As Ted and Dougal originally imagined it here, and went on to practice it here, and then in its final performance here. But that has nothing to do with St Martin.
One last thing — Martinmas is also one of those days in the year when the wind direction is a good predictor for the prevailing wind direction through the winter; and it's a westerly wind all day today, here in Hastings.