November 11, St. Martin’s Day?

Many of us recognize November 11th as Veterans Day, also known as Armistice Day (Remembrance or Memorial Day in some countries). This holiday was originally intended to commemorate the ending of WW1; on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (of 1918) an armistice (i.e. peace treaty) was signed by Germany.

America celebrated Armistice Day until 1954, when it was renamed Veterans Day. However, long before this day marked peace or celebrated those who served in the military, it was the Feast Day for St. Martin.

St. Martin, the Roman soldier. St. Martin the conscientious objector, who, as the story goes, offered to charge headfirst into battle – only unarmed. He could not, in Christian conscience, shed blood.

St. Martin who cut his cloak in half when he a passed a shivering beggar, marking the beginning of his faith. The remainder of the cloak would become a sacred relic in the Middle Ages, carried out onto the battlefield by the Merovingian kings (yup, those Da Vinci Code/Holy Blood, Holy Grail Merovingians).

st martin

Now, check this out: the cloak was called the cappa Sancti Martini. The priest in charge was called the cappellanu. In time, all military priests were called cappellani.

Now, that’s in Latin. In French, the word became chapelains.

In English, we call them chaplains.

Then there’s this: the cloak had to be housed on the go. These small, temporary sacred structures came to be known as capellas, or little cloaks.

Over time, any small church came to be known as a cappela.

In English, we call them chapels.

But there’s more…


Traditionally, the whole “Saint” thing tends to be more of a Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox practice; Protestants tend not to venerate saints.

Ironically, guess who the father of the Protestant Reformation was named after?

Martin Luther was baptized on November 11th, 1483, and was named after none other than St. Martin of Tours.


The timing of St. Martin’s Day is intentional; it is forty days before Christmas. Historically in much of Western Europe, this day marked the day before a period of  fasting until Christmas, sometimes referred to as Advent.

As a result, St. Martin’s Day was celebrated with cheerful indulgence in food and wine.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for Tomorrow We Fast.


Food and Drink:

If you drink alcohol, here’s a suggestion for St. Martin’s Day:

a French Chenin Blanc (he purportedly brought the grape to France).

If you eat fowl, cook a goose.

Apparently, when he was reluctant to become Bishop of Tours, he hid in a shed with some geese.

Those dirty geese ratted him out.


Once, he got into a stone piling competition with Satan;

While Satan should have won, a miracle occurred, with Jesus leading two calves hauling the winning block to the top.

This was in Vauxrenard (Burgandy) France. However, many more St. Martin’s stones dot the French countryside. Some bear his footprints or handprints, while others bear witness to where his geese or his donkey left their marks.

The majority of these are most likely pre-Christian, Pagan worship sites.

By and large, St. Martin wasn’t too fond of Ye Ol’ Pagans; in fact, there is a historic artifact known as St. Martin’s hammer, which he purportedly used to smash Pagan idols and temples to pieces.

But the standing stones? Well, they’re St. Martin’s now.



So from a date possibly tied to Paganism, possibly tied to the seasonal migration of geese (which might explain the carryover into St. Martin’s mythos), to a Catholic Feast Day, from a day marking the end of the “war to end all wars” (hah!) to a day commemorating the service of military personal (and in some countries, specifically to remember those who died in service), November 11th has enjoyed a long, rich history.

So this November 11th,
Eat, Drink and be Merry, for Tomorrow We…

Man, “Fast” sure sounds better than “Die”.

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