Mortens Aften: A Feast of Tradition

Saint Martin's Day, also known as Mortens Aften in Denmark, is a cherished holiday that commemorates the life of Saint Martin or Martin of Tours. This year, on November 11, 2023, people around the world will celebrate this significant day. But before we delve into the details of this festive occasion, let's first explore the history behind it and the customs associated with Saint Martin's Day.

The Origins of Saint Martin's Day

Saint Martin's Day is observed on November 11th each year, marking the date of Saint Martin's burial in the year 397 in the picturesque French town of Tours. This historic event set the stage for a holiday celebrated with great zeal and culinary delights.

    Saint Martin's Eve: November 10th

    The celebrations begin on the evening of November 10th, known as Saint Martin's Eve. In Denmark, this occasion is marked by a delightful culinary tradition - the consumption of duck or goose. This savory feast is a prelude to the main event, Saint Martin's Day, and it has a captivating history of its own.

    The Legend of Saint Martin

    Saint Martin of Tours, born in the 4th century in what is now Hungary, embarked on a remarkable journey. At the age of 15, he joined the Roman army and was eventually sent to Gaul, modern-day France. His reputation quickly grew as tales of his compassion for the poor and his miraculous healing abilities spread far and wide.

    One of the most famous legends surrounding Saint Martin tells of his encounter with a destitute beggar at the city gate of Amiens in France. While others turned a blind eye, Martin, despite being a humble soldier with only a sword and a cloak, divided his cloak to share it with the beggar. That very night, he had a dream in which Jesus appeared to him, wearing the other half of the cloak and revealing that He had been the beggar.

    Inspired by this divine encounter, Martin left the army and became a monk at the age of 20. He returned to Hungary, aiming to convert his countrymen to Christianity, though only a few embraced the faith. As a consequence, he was expelled back to Gaul, where he found refuge in a monastery in Poitiers.

      The Transformation into Martin of Tours

      Martin's virtuous reputation eventually caught the attention of the people of Tours, who desired him as their bishop. However, Martin, dedicated to his monastic life, was not interested in assuming this role. When the time came for his appointment as bishop, Martin attempted to evade the responsibility by seeking refuge among a flock of geese. Regrettably for Martin, the geese were not particularly inclined to conceal him, and he was soon discovered and appointed as bishop.

      In a humorous twist, Martin, perhaps feeling a bit of jest in the air, decided to enact a yearly ritual in retaliation for the geese's "betrayal." He declared that, as bishop, every household should slaughter and enjoy a goose at least once a year.

      Many Names, One Saint

      Martin of Tours is a figure with many names and aliases, including:

      • Martin of Tours
      • Apostle of Gaul
      • Saint Martin
      • Martin Bishop

      Feasting on Saint Martin's Evening

      On Saint Martin's Evening, families and friends come together to celebrate this special occasion by sharing a sumptuous poultry meal. While many choose to prepare this feast at home, it's also common for people to dine out, as most restaurants feature duck or goose on their menus. Unlike Christmas Eve, there are no strict traditions regarding side dishes, but popular accompaniments include potatoes, rich gravies, and sweet treats.

      Duck or Goose: The Culinary Choice

      Traditionally, goose was the preferred choice for Saint Martin's Evening. However, in Denmark, duck has become the more prevalent option in recent times. This culinary shift can be attributed to the high cost of geese in Denmark's past, which prompted people to explore alternative poultry options.

      Saint Martin's Day Beyond Borders

      Beyond Denmark's shores, Saint Martin's Day is celebrated internationally as St. Martin's Day and is observed in various forms across Europe. It is a day filled with history, tradition, and, of course, delectable food.

      As Saint Martin's Day approaches in 2023, let us remember the rich history and traditions that make this holiday a unique and cherished part of our cultural tapestry. Whether you enjoy duck or goose, the spirit of sharing and gratitude is at the heart of this festive occasion.

      Read about other Danish Traditions & Customs here...

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