Today’s feast, St. Martin of Tours, has gradually become a big deal for me. Devotion to St. Martin was huge in the Middle Ages, with some 3,660 churches dedicated to him in France alone. St. Martin’s Day or Martinmass was a feast day marking the beginning of winter, a time to drink, celebrate, and lay in the winter’s provisions.
When the season of Advent was first invented, it began on St. Martin’s Day so as to be 40 days long in imitation of Lent. It was called the “Little Lent” or “St. Martin’s Lent,” and I imagine that Martinmass took on something of the character of Fat Tuesday. When we lived in Austria, Martinmass was still a big deal, something like Thanksgiving in the United States. People would roast a duck or a goose and have a big meal.
Practically speaking, the time between Martinmass and the first Sunday of Advent has become for my family a time to prepare for Advent. Advent itself is a time to prepare for Christmas, but before Advent we need to locate our decorations, find the prayer sheets, and think about what changes to make in our Advent devotions this year. And, if at all possible, we like to do Christmas shopping too: Advent is so much more relaxed and focused if we’re not worried about that last-minute gift.
This year, I’ve decided to take advantage of “St. Martin’s Lent” to pursue a special diet. I’ve been dogged by health issues over the past several years, so I’m going to try to the AIP diet for 40 days. It not only promises to resolve auto-immune issues, but is 100% guaranteed to be penitential! Two for the price of one.
Kicking off a stringent diet on a Friday is not ideal, but I want this project to be under St. Martin’s patronage. Say a prayer for me!
UPDATE: I published a short account of St. Martin’s Day here. I still take Martinmas as the beginning of my personal Advent, and I still go on a restrictive diet every year for 40 days before Christmas. Since I first posted this, I have experienced the power of St. Martin’s intercession, too. And I have noticed the added psychological benefit that I don’t mind the Christmasy stuff in stores so much once I hit November 11.