St. Martin’s Day and Italy’s Roman Summer

After San Martino’s Day, you can be sure that winter will start marching our way…

San Martino is celebrated on November 11, the day of his burial in Tours, France. But San Martino also refers to the unseasonably warm weather Italy usually enjoys in the month’s first half! Which, according to folklore, is due to a good deed this Roman saint performed.

The Story of San Martino

Born in 316 AD, in what is now Hungary, Martino was forced into the Roman army as a youth. And while doing guard duty one freezing winter day, he encountered a bedraggled, poorly dressed man stumbling along in the icy wind, Moved by compassion, Martino proceeded to cut his own warm cloak in half and gave one part to the beggar.

That night he dreamt of seeing Jesus himself clothed with the torn cloak. And awoke the next morning to unusually warm weather, and a completely restored cloak!

Moved by that experience, Martin went on to finish his religious instruction and become a missionary to various places.

Folklore says that the unusual spell of warm weather, which return most years, is God’s way of rewarding Martino’s kindness. They’ve come to be known in Italy as Roman Summers.

Saint Martin’s Summer

Scientists, however, offer a more technical explanation. According to them the unusual warm spells are caused by dust from a meteorite making its regular journey around the earth.

Known as Roman Summers here, such bouts of warm weather occur in many parts of the world. The USA has Indian Summer, so-called because it gave the Native Americans more time to complete their harvests. Although Indian Summer is undoubtedly no longer a politically correct name, the occurance was rather a good thing for them, I’d say!

Just as it surely was for Bulgarians, where it’s known as Gypsy Summer. While in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lithuania, Hungary, Finland, and most Slavic nations, they simply call it The Old Woman’s Summer!

Tenant moving day

In Medieval times, it was on Saint Martin’s Day that the lords of the manor decided which of their tenants could stay on and which had to leave. Just imagine how deeply grateful any serfs forced to search for new housing and employment must have been for that warm weather!

I doubt they really cared what caused the warmth, but simply hoped to find lodgings before winter set in. Because great as it is, Saint Martin’s Summer doesn’t last forever. Winter is just around the corner, as this Italian saying reminds us:

Da San Martino, l’inverno è in cammino.

After San Martino, winter starts marching our way.

San Martino Sayings

Sayings about St. Martin’s Day abound. And not surprisingly, many of them center around weather and agriculture. Like this one that predicts winter weather based on whether or not, on San Martino, people could get out to cut wood:

“If St. Martin’s brings fine weather winter will be cold, so get out and chop your wood. But if bad weather keeps you in from getting wood, winter be mild.”

(The Italian version: Se il giorno di San Martino è bel tempo il santo può andar a far legna: l’inverno sarà freddo, se il giorno di san martino è brutto tempo il santo resta in casa, non può andar a fare provvista di legna, quindi l’inverno sarà mite.)

More weather sayings

If the sun shines on San Martino, the mill will freeze on Christmas.Se c’è il sole al San Martino, a Natale ghiaccia il mulino.
If at San Martino the sun doesn’t peep out, you’d best stay in on Epiphany.Se a San Martino il sole non fa capolino, a Befana tutti dentro la tana.
Snow among the thorns on Martino? Open the cask, and drink the wine!San Martino, la neve fra le spine, buca la botte e bevi il vino!
On San Martino get your wheat to the mill.A San Martino il grano va al mulino.
He who wants to make good wine, hoes and prunes in the days of San Martino.Chi vuol far buon vino, zappi e poti nei giorni di San Martino.

Plus this special one from our own Abruzzo, about the region’s second highest mountain peak, the Maiella.

Se la Maiella se mette il Mantello, vendi il cappello e compri l’ombrello!

When the Maiella wears her cloak [of snow] sell your hat and buy an umbrella!

Adages on food and celebrating

Many of the popular proverbs, just as one would expect in Italy, center around food and celebrations!

Always keep roasted chestnuts and new wine ready for San Martino!Caldarroste e vino e nuovo vino, tiene pronti a San Martino!
Wine is the only grape juice for San Martino!San Martino, ogni mosto è vino.
For San Martino the leaves fall and the wine is uncorked.Per San Martino cadono le foglie e si spilla il vino.
Goose, chestnuts, and wine celebrate San Martino!Oca, castagne, e vino per festeggiare San Martino.

How to celebrate St. Martin’s Summer

That final saying sheds some light on how St. Martin’s summer is traditionally celebrated: with roasted chestuts, wine, and goose. And the reason for the goose is quite simple. After Martin had become a monk, it was decided that he should be made the Bishop of Tours.

Tradition states that preferring to remaining a simple monk, Martin hid away in a goose shed. But his presence, which set the geese to honking, led to his discovery and he was made bishop. Ever since, goose is eaten to honor the bishop for his humility.

Our favorite way to celebrate St. Martin’s Summer is with coffee or wine on the veranda. Or on especially warm years, even a picnic lunch!

We didn’t get a real St. Martin’s Summer this year. It’s colder than usual with gray, rainy days. But don’t let that fool you, flowers are still in bloom and umbrellas are needed more than winter coats. And there’s always hope that next year we’ll have Novermber summertime again. Some years it’s even made our strawberry plants produce again!

Whether legend or reality, I can’t help but admire anyone who would share their cloak! And I wonder, would I have shared mine? Would you? But in the meantime, how about some wine and chestnuts? Happy St. Martin’s Day!

Image credits: Wine | Coffee | Chestnuts & wine| Others are mine.

Author: Signora Sheila

American born, Italian at heart. In Italy 30+ years. I'm glad you're here and hope you'll join my journey!

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