Friday, November 11, 2005

Ante Diem III Idus November

Modern Date : November 11th

Ante Diem III Idus November
Third Day to the Ides of November

This is one of the dies comitiales when committees of citizens could vote on political or criminal matters.

November is the ninth month (after March) and is a lucky month which is almost free of religious obligation.

St. Augustine
This was the birthday of Augustine. Born in 354 AD in Numidia at a place called Tagaste, this scholar was later named a saint after he converted to Christianity and wrote a series of tendentious diatribes ridiculing and disparaging the Greek and Roman religion and philosophy. Virtually every argument Augustine used against the Religion of Nature could have equally well been used against Christianity, the shortcomings and hypocrisy of which Augustine seemed oblivious.

Feast of Vinalia
In ancient Greece and Rome, this was the feast of Vinalia, honoring Bacchus, god of wine. The Christian Church dedicated this day to St. Martin, a patron of vinters and tavern keepers. Old November Day, now known as Martinmas or Hollentide, once marked the New Year in the Isle of Man.

If there is hard weather now, winter will be mild. But more common is a spell of fine weather, called "St. Martin's Little Summer." In fact, l'estate di San Martino is the Italian expression for an Indian summer.

Traditionally this is the day for slaughtering the animals that will not be carried through the winter, typically geese or pigs, culminating in a feast of fresh meat. In fact, there is a proverb that says: His Martinmas will come, as it does to every hog.

November 11 was once a sort of new year, when schools and parliament opened, municipal elections were held, leases signed and farm contracts renewed. Perhaps this explains why the American Election Day falls early in November and the Lord Mayor is sworn in on November 9th in London.

Italians celebrate San Martino in ways similar to American Halloween. In Calabria, boys used to go out banging old tambourines and ringing cowbells. In some places, they did a lot of drinking and put on masks. Pietro Toschi, the early 20th century anthropologist, remembered boys sneaking out to draw cuckold's horns on houses. In Abruzzo, it was the custom to scoop out a pumpkin, light a candle inside, plant two red horns on top and place it outside the door of the man with the most lascivious wife in town.

The French launch their Beaujolais Nouveau on St. Martin's Day, since he is the patron of wine growers, beggars and tavern keepers, because he shared his cloak with a poor drunkard. Eleanor Graham(Happy Holidays) records a British Martinmas saying:

If you raise your glass
At Martinmas
Wine will be yours
Throughout the year.

The holiday is similar to Thanksgiving with its emphasis on late harvest foods, especially meat dishes, and as an occasion for family reunions. In Latvia, people feast on roast goose and sauerkraut. Goose is also the traditional entrée in France and England. In Sweden, the Marten Gas (Martin Goose) feast includes roast goose, stuffed with apples and prunes, sauerkraut, green cabbage and blood soup (made from the wings, blood, neck, heart and liver of the goose, plus dried apples, prunes, ginger, pepper, vinegar, sugar and wine--Helen Farias(Festal Foods: Samhain) comments that this sounds like a ritual meal).

In Estonia, turnips (one of the few winter vegetables) are a favorite food, along with viljandi kama, a kind of meal comprised of about 15 different grains and dried vegetables (rye, peas, lima beans, wheat) ground together and mixed with sour milk, sugar and cream. In Sweden the customary food is hash made from the heart and liver of a cow or pig, plus boneless pork and lots of herbs. In the Swiss Jura region, people eat grelatte, an aspic of pigs' trotters, tail, head and ears with knuckle of ham and accompanied by a meat and leek. For Italians the feast incorporates roast turkey, chestnuts and wine. Waverley Root(The Food of Italy) quotes a Venetian saying which translates, "The turkey has a destiny which ends on San Martino's day." In Portugal, St. Martin's feast is roasted chestnuts, red wine and a freshly butchered pig.

St. Martin's emblem is a globe of fire or a goose. Carol Field in her book on Italian cooking mentions the theory of Alfred Cattabiani, an Italian folklorist, who believed that San Martino is like the Celtic New Year and geese are the symbolic messengers to the other world. Domestic geese, sacred and untouchable accompanied pagans and pilgrims to their sanctuaries.

Legend says that St. Martin tried to hide in a flock of geese, because he felt unworthy of being made Bishop of Tours but the geese cackled and gave him away. The goose (or turkey) that is eaten for the feast can also be used as part of a weather prognostication. Once the meat is eaten off, the breast-bone can be examined. If it's fair and clear, winter is likely to be cold and rigid and full of hard frosts. But if it is thick and dark, the winter will be full of snow, rain and sleet, but warmer in temperature.

In the Norse calendar, 11/11 is Einherjar, commemorating fallen heroes and honoring the 432,000 spirit warriors who guard Valhalla. This was the date chosen as Armistice Day at the end of World War I, and is celebrated annually as Veterans' Day in the United States. Lunantishees is celebrated in Ireland to honor the spirits that guard the holy blackthorn trees. On this day, you may cut no sticks from this tree.

Weather on this day was said to foretell the weather of the approaching winter. Fair weather meant a bad winter and frost meant a mild winter.