Advent Fasts and Feasts

this page:
Fasts and Feasts
of Advent
see also :

Advent candle

A Season
of Preparation

Advent Wreath:
Prayers - Customs

Meditations for
Each Week

About St. Nicholas


Christmas tree


Prayers and Customs

Prayers for
the Home

Prayers for
the New Year

Prayers for
the Family

Feast of
the Epiphany

Site Introduction


By Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco
beginning of article

For St. Martin, a Goose and a Biscuit

SpacerMany of the most beloved Christmas traditions, from candy canes to Christmas trees, come from Germany, where the Christmas season begins on November 11 with the feast of St. Martin of Tours.

SpacerBorn around 336 in present-day Hungary, Martin grew up in Pavia, Italy, and became a Roman solider. While serving in the army, he decided to become a Christian and began to prepare for baptism. One day he met a freezing beggar to whom he gave half his cloak. That night in a dream Jesus appeared to him wearing the covering he'd given the poor man. After he left the military, Martin became bishop of Tours. A German tradition holds that he was reluctant to take on the honor, and tried to hide in a goose's shed, where he was driven off by a noisy gander. Today, German restaurants launch their Christmas season menus with goose served for the feast of St. Martin, which is also commemorated with bonfires lit in town squares. [illustration, right, of Saint Martin]

SpacerIn Europe, the feast day of St. Martin coincides with the bottling of the year's new wine and comes at a time when mild weather often interrupts the advancing cold. In fact, the Italian expression for Indian summer is "l'estate di San Martino"—"St. Martin's summer"—a reference, too, to the sunshine that supposedly overcame the cold when the sympathetic soldier shared his cloak with the beggar.

SpacerIn the area around Palermo, Sicily, the phrase "Pan' e vino, San Martino"—"Bread and wine, St. Martin"—is often heard at this time, in reference to biscotti di San Martino, hard, anise-seed flavored biscuits made in the saint's honor, which are customarily eaten by dipping them into sweet wine. Bread and wine: timeless sustenance of the ancients, that with the advent of the Messiah promises eternal life.

SpacerA couple of weeks after the feast of St. Martin comes that of St. Andrew the apostle (Nov. 30). The Sunday closest to his feast is designated the first Sunday in Advent, when the Christkindlmarkts (Christmas markets) open in town squares across Germany. At this time, children receive Advent calendars whose windows hide a picture of or a piece of chocolate shaped in a symbol of the season, encouraging them to count down the days leading to Christmas. This is also the season for German stollen, a cake dense with nuts, fruit, and spices. Tapered with a ridge down the center, the shape of the stollen symbolizes the swaddling clothes used to wrap the infant Jesus.

continued: Sweet treats for Saint Nicholas

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Copyright 2003 - Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco
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