The saying in Hungary is that if you don’t eat goose on St. Martin’s day (Márton nap), you’ll starve all year long. So on November 11, you better eat up! St. Martin’s official feast day (this year it falls on a Monday thus the weekend festivities) is when the first fattened geese are slaughtered and the new wine from the fall harvest is finally tasted, marking the end of all agricultural work and the coming of Advent. The feast also used to initiate a 40-day fast.
Egerszalók is well known for its festivities and traditions surrounding the day. It has a number of family-owned wineries with a selection for everyone; there is a local orchestra for folk dancing; children are kept busy with plenty of crafts; and, of course, there are numerous goose dishes and delicacies to eat.
The story of Martin takes us all the way back to the 4th century, when a young Martin from Szombathely chose to become a Roman soldier. On a cold winter night in France, Martin shared his cloak with a freezing beggar. That night in his sleep, the beggar appeared to Martin in his dreams as Jesus Christ. It was then that Martin decided to serve God and left the Roman army, stating “I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight.” Later, Martin helped found Europe’s oldest monastery and was selected to become the Bishop of Tours. Shy of such acknowledgement, Martin tried to hide in a shed, but the geese there began to cackle and gave him away. He went on to become bishop and established a number of other parishes and monasteries. Today, he is known as the patron saint of beggars, winemakers, and soldiers, as well as wool-weavers, tailors, innkeepers, and geese.
St. Martin is remembered in villages throughout Hungary with candlelight processions, often led by someone playing Martin, with a red cape symbolizing the cape that the then-soldier had shared with the beggar. Plays, food, and music are all part of the fun, along with some other traditions, such as predicting the weather. One superstition for this last states: “If on St. Martin’s Day the goose walks on ice, it will be waddling in water on Christmas.” People even used to believe that whatever the weather was on November 11, so it would be the following March.
For those who make the trip to Egerszlók for a truly traditional and festive Martin’s Day, the town has three spots you may want to check out while there: a striking white limestone hill and nearby medicinal thermal baths; the 13th-century Sirok castle; and St. Martin’s Church, featuring elements of both Western and Eastern Church architecture and 12th-century frescoes.