Above: Roast chestnuts are traditionally served at the end of a meal in the Veneto at this time of year.
The Feast of St. Martin (today, November 11) is celebrated in myriad traditions across Italy.
But from north to south, the festivities share a common theme: the feast of St. Martin is the day that the vino novello or new wine, in other words, the newly fermented wine from the year’s harvest, is tasted and shared by the grape growers and winemakers with the townsfolk.
It’s an ancient tradition that stretches back to Roman times and even beyond St. Martin’s life.
Just as martedì grasso, mardi gras, or fat Tuesday mark the arrival of spring, the Feast of St. Martin is a celebration of the arrival of fall and the foods associated with the season.
As for the early spring Feast of St. Vincent in France, the saint actually has nothing to do with the holiday other than the fact that his feast day falls on the date of the celebration.
The Veneto’s observance of the Feast of St. Martin is one of the most colorful.
Every year on November 11, schoolchildren armed with cooking pots march through the towns from shop to shop in the hopes of receiving a sweet from shopkeepers and passerby (similar to Halloween in the U.S. except for the fact that in the Veneto the celebration takes place during the day).
In order to encourage the townsfolk to give them a treat, they sing a a bawdy song about “St. Martin, the King of Wine,” in Venetian dialect.
In the first stanza of the song, the youngsters threaten that they won’t leave until they receive a treat.
If they do receive a treat, they respond with a stanza thanking the shopkeeper.
If they don’t receive a treat, they sing a stanza that ends with the line: “we hope you get many pimples on your ass!”
Traditionally, they receive a shortbread in the shape of the saint, with his sword and his cloak, topped with candies and/or chocolate icing.
And of course, the adults enjoy roast chestnuts and vino novello in a celebration of the gifts of fall.